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Information on Use of Deadly Force

Deadly Force – Issues to Consider

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of the people to keep and bear arms. The laws of the State of Washington define how one can carry a weapon and legally protect themselves.

While the right to keep and bear arms and the laws pertaining to use of force reside in separate documents, they are closely intertwined on issues of deadly force. The instrument of deadly force is not limited to a firearm and can be anything, including someone’s bare hands. 

It is your obligation to act in a responsible manner in exercising your right to keep and bear arms, and at the same time know and understand the laws governing the use of deadly force.

Over the years, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has investigated several encounters involving citizens using deadly force. Some of these incidents involved self-defense, others involved protection of property. Many times the use of deadly force was clearly justified, sometimes it was not, and occasionally it was ambiguous. In those cases where the use of force was not justified or ambiguous, the user of the force was charged and the matter put before the court system for determination.

As a law enforcement officer, I field many questions concerning the use of deadly force. Unfortunately, I often find confusion and misinformation exists among members of the public on this very important topic. The bottom line is…if you use deadly force, the law will protect you, but only if you have acted within the law. The decision to arm yourself is a personal choice, as is the choice to use deadly force in an encounter.

Before you decide to arm yourself with a weapon and be faced with the possibility of using deadly force, you should first and foremost arm yourself with the most valuable weapon of all – knowledge. Possessing advance knowledge of the limits of the law, the boundaries of your rights, and the capabilities of your weapon, will not only enhance your ability to effectively and safely react during a potential deadly force encounter, but will also increase your chances of surviving under the most stressful conditions.

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

The following are some frequently asked questions about concealed weapons, open carry law and use of deadly force. It is my hope that these questions will be beneficial in helping people gain a working knowledge and understanding of this important issue.

Q: If I get a license to carry a concealed weapon, can I carry it anywhere?
A: No, even with a CPL you are still restricted from carrying a weapon into bars, schools and government buildings.

Q: What are the restrictions for carrying a concealed pistol inside a vehicle?
A: A person shall not carry or place a loaded pistol in any vehicle unless the person has a license to carry a concealed pistol and the pistol is on the licensee's person, OR the licensee is within the vehicle at all times that the pistol is there, or the licensee is away from the vehicle and the pistol is locked within the vehicle and concealed from view from outside the vehicle.

Q: Are there states that have a reciprocity agreement with Washington State on concealed weapon permits?
A: Yes, the following states have a reciprocity agreement with Washington: Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia.

Q: What are the open carry laws in Washington State?
A: Open carry is legal in Washington State unless it is done so “under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.”

Q: What is the “reasonable person” standard?
A: Your actions, if judged in a court of law, will be judged to the standard of a reasonable person who would be placed in the same circumstances, and knowing what you knew at the time. It is called the “reasonable person doctrine,” and it is the cornerstone of our legal system.

Q: What can I expect to occur if I use deadly force?
A: Law enforcement will conduct a thorough investigation, to include photographs, interviews, and any other necessary processing of the scene.

Any weapons used will be seized for evidentiary purposes, as well as any other items deemed to be of an evidentiary nature.

An initial decision will be made as to whether or not a custodial arrest is appropriate and/or necessary.

Upon completion of the investigation, the case file will be delivered to the Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for a referral of charges or case review. Their office will assess whether criminal charges are appropriate, or if the act was a justifiable/excusable homicide.

Q: What determines if I am charged with a crime after a use of deadly force?
A: When determining if an act is a justifiable or an excusable homicide, the totality of the circumstances is reviewed using a “reasonable person standard.”

If the actions are found reasonable, no charges are pursued. If the act is unlawful, or there is ambiguity, charges may be pursued. In cases of ambiguity, it may be necessary for a jury of the person’s peers to determine the reasonableness of their actions.

Q: What if I am charged with a crime, but a jury finds I acted in self-defense?
A: When a person charged with a crime listed in 9A.16.110, subsection (1), is found not guilty by reason of self-defense, the State of Washington shall reimburse the defendant for all reasonable costs, including loss of time, legal fees incurred, and other expenses involved in his or her defense. This reimbursement is not an independent cause of action. To award these reasonable costs, the trier of fact must find that the defendant's claim of self-defense was sustained by a preponderance of the evidence.

Q: What if someone uses threatening language to me so that I am afraid for my life or safety?
A: Verbal threats are not enough to justify the use of deadly force. There must be an overt act by the person which indicates that he immediately intends to carry out the threat. The person threatened must reasonably believe that he will be killed or suffer serious bodily harm if he does not immediately take the life of his adversary.

Q: Can I use deadly force to defend myself if someone is attacking me in my own home?
A: Yes, provided you can articulate an imminent fear and the necessity to use such force. This decision will be weighed against the “reasonable person” standard.

Q: When can I use deadly force in the defense of another person?
A: Deadly force can be used in defense of another in your presence. Again, this is lawful provided you can articulate an imminent fear and the necessity to use such force. This decision will be weighed against the “reasonable person” standard.

Q: If I have a concealed pistol license and see a crime being committed, can I intervene and use deadly force?
A: A concealed pistol license does not carry with it any additional authority or police power. As previously stated, deadly force can be used in the defense of self or others only when there is an imminent fear and the necessity to use such force.

Q: If I point my handgun at someone can I get in trouble?
A: Yes, if the aiming of a firearm is unreasonable due to the circumstances surrounding the incident, one may be charged with assault or unlawful display of a weapon. This also applies to unloaded firearms.

Q: What is the “no duty to retreat law”?
A: Washington State has no “duty to retreat,” as precedent was set in State v. Studd (1999) and State v. Reynaldo Redmond (2003) when the court found: "that there is no duty to retreat when a person is assaulted in a place where he or she has a right to be."

The laws pertaining to Carrying a Concealed Weapon and Use of Force are outlined in the Revised Code of Washington.

RCW 9.41.070
Concealed Pistol Licenses

RCW 9.41.270
Open Carry

RCW 9A.16.020
Use of Force – When Lawful

RCW 9A.16.030
Homicide – When Excusable

RCW 9A.16.040
Justifiable Homicide – Police Officer

RCW 9A.16.050
Justifiable Homicide – By Other Person

RCW 9A.16.110
Defending Against Violent Crime – Reimbursement

The laws involving firearms and dangerous weapons are covered under
RCW 9.41 and are available online at http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/.

Click below for Sheriff Mansfield's printable tri-fold pamphlet on the Use of Deadly Force.

A Resource Guide for the Use of Deadly Force