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Arkansas Recruiting Center Shooting Suspect Says Actions Justified, Not Murder

By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 10, 2009 11:44 AM

Justifiable Homicides and the Law

Abdulhakim Muhammad, the suspect in the Arkansas shooting at a military recruiting center, says he's no murderer because his now-admitted actions had a "justified reason" (the AP story has more background). Muhammad (born Carlos Bledsoe) told the AP in a phone call from jail, "I do feel I'm not guilty ... I don't think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason." Muhammad said his acts were "retaliation" for the U.S. military's actions against Muslim men, women, and children abroad. Well, this seems like a real nice opportunity to explain the concept of what a justifiable homicide might be, and to clarify what it most certainly is not.

Each state has its own laws on what qualifies as a justifiable homicide, but there are some common grounds. The most obvious and well-known one is probably self-defense, but some people may have some misconceptions about how far self-defense can go. Sticking to Arkansas, a homicide can be justifiable in defense of a person if someone reasonably believes that the other person is committing or about to commit a serious crime involving violence or force. It can also be justified if someone reasonably believes the other person is about to use illegal deadly force. Domestic abuse can sometimes also be a justification under Arkansas law.

It is important to know that laws often limit the availability of deadly force in self-defense. In Arkansas, someone may not use deadly physical force in self-defense if they knows they can avoid the necessity of using deadly physical force with complete safety by: 1) retreating (see exceptions below); or 2) giving up property to someone else claiming a right to it;

Some states stretch this further with "stand your ground" laws which allow the use of deadly force against intruders in one's home (and sometimes other locations), with no duty to retreat at all in those circumstances. Arkansas law for example, says "a person is not required to retreat if the person is in their dwelling (or in the adjacent area), and was not the original aggressor. There is also no duty to retreat for law enforcement officers, etc.

Moving on to what is not justifiable homicide ... If any of the following words: revenge, retaliation, vengeance, and/or payback, describe the grounds for killing someone, you can probably guess that's not going to be justifiable. In reality, justification is a fairly limited legal defense and generally only the specific grounds outlined in state laws will be considered "justifiable".

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