When Can I Use Deadly Force in Illinois?

Unless you have been living under a rock the past six months, you are familiar with the “self-defense or murder” trial happening in Sanford, FL.  Gun laws and self-defense statutes vary from state-to-state.  For instance, Illinois is the only state in the country that prohibits the carrying of a concealed firearm.  Notwithstanding the ban on concealed carry, an Illinois citizen may own and keep a firearm in the home pursuant to the 2nd Amendment.  The question really boils down to, when is it appropriate to use your firearm (aka deadly force) in self-defense in Illinois?

The Illinois statute regarding self-defense states, “[A person] is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.”  This type of statute is often referred to as the “reasonable belief” statute.  That is, the person who is trying to defend themself need not know for certain that the person who is attacking is using force likely to cause death or serious bodily injury; just that the victim has a reasonable belief that the attacker is.  As a hypothetical example, you are walking down an alley alone at night in Chicago.  A person approaches you from the rear and hits you in the back of the head.  You fall down and after encountering the pavement find a hammer lying next to you on the ground.  You rise with the hammer and strike the individual with it.  That may be a viable self-defense claim, if charged with murder.

There is a long-standing fiat, if you will, called the castle doctrine.  The castle doctrine originated in the common law and expressed the principle that the home is a man’s castle.  This meant that a homeowner never has a duty to retreat if encountered with force or a felony in his own home.  Illinois has adopted this old-English ideal.  If someone enters your home, in a tumultuous or riotous manner, and you reasonably believe they intend to commit a felony therein, you are always entitled to use deadly force to protect yourself or your family in Illinois.

However cut and dry this may appear in print, application of the statute has an incredible amount of variance.  For instance, after using justifiable self-defense, police will ask you a litany of questions in an attempt to parse out the events that occurred.  Law enforcement will want to make certain that you were not the aggressor.  If you are found to be the aggressor, you may lose all or part of the protection of the Illinois self-defense statute.  If you are ever put in a situation where you have to use deadly force against another in Illinois, immediately contact a qualified Criminal Defense Attorney because no one wants to be in a Sanford, FL situation.

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