When is Deadly Force Justified? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

When is Deadly Force Justified?

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Jim Melanson Jim Melanson
Peter Langrock Peter Langrock
Eric Edson Eric Edson

North Hero, Vermont - November 26, 2008

The issue of self-defense came up this week when a North Hero man shot at a burglar inside his home. No one was hurt, but there is plenty of legal precedence for justifiable shootings in self-defense.

"I said, 'listen I am going to shoot you if you don't produce some hands right now,'" said Jim Melanson, who was packing a pistol when he surprised a burglar in his home this week.

Melanson did fire two shots, but he missed the thief who then escaped unharmed out a back window.

Reporter Brian Joyce: You shot to miss?

"Yes, it was a warning," Melanson replied. "He never produced a weapon. If he had produced a weapon he definitely would not have come out of the house without going in an ambulance."

But the would-be burglar left his car in Melanson's driveway-- leading to the arrest of Eric Edson, a career criminal who was out on parole.

"I had the right to shoot him right there on the spot," Melanson said. "I know that for a fact 'cause he was in my house."

"It falls in the classification of justifiable homicide. You have a right to take a life to protect yourself, to protect your family, and to suppress certain crimes," explained Peter Langrock, a longtime trial lawyer.

Langrock says Vermont law permits the use of deadly force anywhere-- even outside the home-- if the person under attack believes they or loved ones are in imminent danger.

"Simply seeing somebody breaking into an outbuilding or doing something that may constitute technically a burglary does not give you a hunting license for that person," Langrock said.

Langrock is an expert on self-defense and deadly force. Sixteen years ago he got an acquittal for a Rutland man who fatally shot a teenage burglar armed with a tire iron.

Last year, Langrock's law firm got a not guilty jury verdict for a Shelburne man who fatally shot an unarmed man at a party, claiming he believed the unarmed man had a knife.

Langrock advises using deadly force as an absolute last resort, because even if justified, charges and a trial could follow.

"You don't want to get to that point because the consequences if the jury doesn't agree with you are drastic," Langrock said.

Consequences that could include a conviction for murder.

Jim Melanson doesn't face those consequences because he didn't shoot Eric Edson. But he has a warning for any other burglars considering visiting him or his neighbors: "We all have firearms. We all have loaded pistol and we usually sleep with one."

Justified use of deadly force is a defense often attempted by suspects charged with violent crimes in Vermont but as lawyer Peter Langrock points out it rarely works unless the facts solidly support the claim.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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