Among the changes to Idaho law taking effect on July 1, 2018, is an important clarification of when you can and cannot use deadly force to defend yourself, others or perhaps, your “habitation.”  The newest version of Idaho Code 18-4009 lays out the places and people you have a right to defend with deadly force. Previously Idaho focused on one’s home as a place to protect with deadly force. The law now spells out your right to use deadly force – if necessary – to your place of work and your occupied vehicle.

Arguably, if someone walks up to your vehicle holding a handgun and pointing it at you while you’re sitting in 5 o’clock traffic, demonstrating that he or she is about to use it, you may be entitled to use deadly force to defend yourself and the vehicle’s occupants. Wasn’t this the law before the change? I think so and the cases in Idaho support the idea behind self-defense generally: if you are in fear for your life, and under imminent attack, you may use reasonable force to defend yourself and others. The only issue is whether your use of deadly force was reasonable.

A successful self-defense claim is measured by what a reasonable person in that same or similar situation would have done. The fact that someone is angrily walking up to your vehicle is not, by itself, a reason to use deadly force. Nor has the law changed to permit the use of deadly force under every situation. Before deadly force could be used, there must be some act that demonstrates an intent on the part of an attacker to commit a felony or do great bodily harm.

In a case I defended ten years ago, my client was in a logging truck when another truck driver blocked his way on a remote mountain road. The driver walked toward my client with a chain in his hand and yelled he was going to “settle the score” once and for all. They had been in “disagreement” over whether my client owed him some money. Snarling, screaming and running toward my client, who sat in his truck with a pistol on the passenger seat, the other driver climbed up on the running boards and hit him through the open window. My client grabbed the gun and fired one shot – successfully defending his own life. He was charged with murder and faced a trial for his use of deadly force. When I argued the case to the jury I told them that I would never have waited for the other driver to climb up on the running boards, and I would have shot him sooner. The jury apparently agreed, and it found my client “NOT GUILTY.”

Still, a trial is a trial. It is still an ordeal, emotionally and financially. The fact that the law seemingly permits something does not make it easy to assert that right!

Does “Stand Your Ground” means that if you are standing on a sidewalk and someone is running in your general direction with what appears to be a weapon, you can justifiably kill them? Absolutely not.  The law requires more. In particular, the law requires that the person running your way represents an imminent threat of great bodily harm or is in about to commit a felony. Even then, your actions will be judged by what a reasonable person in your shoes would do.

So – is this really a change? In some respects, it is. It adds your vehicle and place of employment as “places” that can be protected. Still, don’t get the impression the law invites us to simply shoot first and ask questions later. Self-defense still requires that you believe the use of deadly force is necessary and that a reasonable person would have agreed.