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Jeb Bladine: Complex laws set deadly force rules

The shooting of a home intruder this week sparked debates about rights of self-defense. As Capt. Rhonda Sandoval points out in today’s news story, Oregon laws on the use of deadly force are complicated.

First things first: Simple burglary, a Class C felony, is entering or remaining in a building with intent to commit a crime therein. If you sneak into my chicken coop to inject yourself with heroin, that’s burglary.

It’s first degree burglary — a Class A felony — if the building is a dwelling, OR, if the burglar is armed with a burglary tool, theft device or deadly weapon; causes or attempts to cause physical injury to a person; or uses or threatens to use a dangerous weapon.

If you cut open my chicken coop door with an acetylene torch, it’s a Class A felony, but only if you intend to commit a crime inside. If you walk through my unlocked chicken coop door to take a nap, it’s criminal trespass.

Things can get complex in a hurry when guns are involved.

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

I can use physical force to defend myself or another person from what I reasonably believe to be imminent use of unlawful physical force. I can use deadly physical force against someone I reasonably believe is committing a felony involving use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person, or is using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force against a person.

I can use deadly physical force against someone committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling. However, as Capt. Sandoval notes, I better be sure the suspect intends to commit a crime and isn’t just a disoriented drunk.

Complicated? One gun safety instructor actually suggested that if you shoot someone inside your house, make sure you kill the person to avoid any he-said-she-said debate. What a terrible piece of advice, but it points out the concerns with interpretation of self-defense laws.

Judicial response can even depend on the “choice of evils” law, which excuses an otherwise criminal offense “as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury, and the threatened injury is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability and urgency of avoiding the injury clearly outweigh the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense in issue.”

In any event, think before you shoot.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

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