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 Can You Shoot Someone Breaking into Your Car in Washington State?

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Car theft is a major problem in Washington state. The loss of a vehicle can lead to significant hardship and stress for car owners. In these situations, you may want to take any means necessary to protect your vehicle from theft—but using a gun could lead to serious legal trouble.

Generally, it is not legal to shoot someone who is breaking into your vehicle. However, there are certain circumstances where this may be lawful, such as when the thief has a gun and threatens to harm you.

Understanding Washington’s Self-Defense Laws

According to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 9A.16.020, it is lawful to use force against or upon another person in the following circumstances.

  • When you are performing a legal duty as a public officer or assisting the officer under his or her direction.
  • When you are arresting a person who committed a felony crime and bringing him or her to the police.
  • When you are about to be injured and are preventing an offense against you or malicious trespass.
  • When you are detaining a person who illegally enters or remains on your property or land.
  • When you are preventing a mentally ill, incompetent, or disabled person from committing a dangerous act.

Is It Legal to Shoot a Car Thief in Washington?

If you live in Washington state and legally own a firearm, you have the right to use your gun to defend yourself whenever it is necessary. However, it is important to understand the difference between the necessary versus unnecessary use of force.

A 2013 case from Spokane raised major questions about this topic. A 56-year-old man chased a 25-year-old thief who stole his vehicle from his driveway. The owner shot and killed the fleeing thief. However, the owner stated that he saw the thief raise his arm and believed that the thief had a gun.

The owner was charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter and faced serious criminal penalties. However, he was later acquitted of the thief’s death after the jurors found that the use of force was justified in this situation. 

In most cases, it is not legal to shoot someone who is breaking into your vehicle unless your actions fall under Washington’s definitions of self-defense or justifiable homicide. If the thief poses a risk to your life or another person’s life, using a firearm may be reasonable. 

Speak to an Attorney About Criminal Charges

While your use of force may be justified, it is possible to face criminal charges for shooting someone who breaks into your vehicle. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your case, the court will need to deliberate on whether your actions were lawful. 

If you are facing penalties for shooting someone in self-defense, you need an attorney on your side. A Washington criminal defense lawyer can advocate for your side of the story and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. 

As soon as possible following the shooting, contact a Washington criminal defense attorney to discuss your legal options. Your lawyer will carefully evaluate your case and strategize your optimal course of action.

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