Castle doctrine explained in light of deadly shooting

MARSHALL COUNTY, KY — A local prosecutor explains when the castle doctrine applies, after a recent shooting raises questions about when homeowners can use deadly force against an intruder.

Kelly Allen

A Marshall County homeowner is charged with reckless homicide after he shot a man he told investigators was stealing from his property. Investigators said 28-year-old Kelly Allen told them he fired two shots from a .38 caliber revolver at 38-year-old Jeremy Scott early Thursday morning, because Scott was stealing anhydrous ammonia from a tank on his property.

Deputies said Allen previously reported someone stole ammonia from the tank Wednesday, and when he heard an ATV on the property again Thursday, he took his gun outside and shot twice. Local 6 asked Marshall County Sheriff Kevin Byars if it’s certain Scott was the person involved in Wednesday’s incident, but Byars said that is still under investigation.

After he fired his gun Thursday, Allen told investigators he went to check on Scott, and learned one of the rounds hit his left side. Allen told deputies he instructed his wife to call 911, but Scott was dead by the time first responders arrived.

According to a uniform citation Local 6 obtained from the Marshall County Judicial Facility, Allen told investigators he fired both shots in the air and did not mean to hit Scott.

Assistant County Attorney Jason Darnall spoke with Local 6 Friday. Darnall said he could not comment specifically on the case. But, he did explain when it would be appropriate for a homeowner to use lethal force under circumstances that fall under the castle doctrine.

“The castle doctrine raises a presumption that if a person is in their home, and then an intruder comes into their home and is trying to either assault them, do whatever, dispossess them of their home, that there is a presumption that they are in reasonable fear of imminent serious injury or death because of that intrusion by that individual. And so, that’s when deadly force becomes justified,” explained Darnall.

What if the trespasser has not entered a person’s home, but is still on the person’s property?

Darnall said: “If it is a theft outside the home somewhere, then physical force can be used to try to retrieve your property. But, unless you feel like you’re in serious physical risk of serious physical injury or death, then deadly force cannot be used just to protect the property.”

But, Darnall said, lethal force can be justified in some cases, even if the trespasser is not in a person’s home.

“If you see somebody running toward your front door with a gun, and you don’t recognize them, then they’re armed. So, that’s when you would probably be justified of having fear of serious physical injury or death at that point, even if they’re not in the home,” Darnall said.

While the justification of lethal force depends on the circumstances of each case, Darnall said, “A good rule of thumb is: You can meet force with force.”

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