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.
Wednesday, April 16 2014 11:52 PM EDT2014-04-17 03:52:17 GMT
The Stowe Police Department is currently investigating the untimely death of two adults. Stowe Police responded to 262 Cady Hill Road at 4:38 p.m. and discovered deceased individuals. The Stowe PoliceMore >>
The Stowe Police Department is currently investigating the untimely death of two adults.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 11:49 PM EDT2014-04-17 03:49:04 GMT
Major flaws were uncovered in the Burlington School Budget that failed at the polls. An audit has discovered that the district was making huge errors when budgeting for next year. What this means, is thatMore >>
Major flaws were uncovered in the Burlington School Budget that failed at the polls. An audit has discovered that the district was making huge errors when budgeting for next year.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 6:53 PM EDT2014-04-16 22:53:47 GMT
Teamwork between a Montgomery farmer and a corporal with the Franklin Country sheriff's department may have saved a life when they pulled off a daring rescue. A woman became trapped in her truck tryingMore >>
It was a lifesaving rescue in the nick of time. A Franklin County sheriff's deputy put his life on the line to save a woman trapped in a truck with floodwaters raging around her. More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 7:00 PM EDT2014-04-16 23:00:55 GMT
After this week's whirlwind weather events and major flooding Tuesday, Governor Shumlin (D-Vermont), VTrans and state transportation officials held a news conference Wednesday to discuss the aftermath. ShumlinMore >>
After this week's whirlwind weather events and major flooding Tuesday, Governor Shumlin, VTrans and state transportation officials held a news conference Wednesday to discuss the aftermath.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 12:02 PM EDT2014-04-16 16:02:05 GMT
The floods forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in New York. The governor made the declaration Tuesday night. It covers six counties in northeastern of New York, including two inMore >>
The floods forced Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a state of emergency in New York.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 6:21 PM EDT2014-04-16 22:21:46 GMT
A body found near the North Hartland Dam appears to be that of a missing man from New Hampshire. Michael Hayward, 42, of Sunapee, disappeared two months ago. His car was found near the Quechee Gorge. PoliceMore >>
A body found near the North Hartland Dam appears to be that of a missing man from New Hampshire.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 7:14 PM EDT2014-04-16 23:14:24 GMT
Authorities say six people managed to escape a house fire in Plattsburgh Tuesday morning. First responders say when they arrived at 42 Smith Street, the house was completely engulfed in flames. CityMore >>
Authorities say six people managed to escape a house fire in Plattsburgh Tuesday morning. Police say the blaze was sparked by a child playing with a lighter.More >>
Wednesday, April 16 2014 6:07 PM EDT2014-04-16 22:07:50 GMT
Police in Haverhill, N.H., say they got numerous calls about a young child walking down a road alone. They found the child about a mile from her home. She was brought back to the residence, but the NewMore >>
Police in Haverhill, N.H., say they found a young child alone about a mile from her home.More >>