use of force and burglary


As always:

Cat Burglar
Cat Burglar (Photo credit: Feral Indeed!)
  • I am not an attorney. This is for informational purposes only and is NOT to be mistaken for legal or professional advise.
  • Any opinions I write here are my own and do not represent the views of any agency that employees me.
  • If you have any personal legal concerns, contact a qualified attorney. 
  • I’m from New York and am only familiar with NY Law. These writings are based on that experience. Other States have different laws but many similarities at the root.

As stated in my previous post, some burglary situations can authorize the use of Deadly Physical Force. Section 35.20 of Article 35 spells out the use of force in defense of “premises”.

Premises in general terms is defined as  land and the improvements on it, such as;  a building, store, shop, apartment, or other designated structure.

35.20 Justification; use of physical force in defense of premises and in defense of a person in the course of burglary.

1. Any person may use physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of a crime involving damage to premises. Such person may use any degree of physical force, other than deadly physical force, which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose, and may use deadly physical force if he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of arson.

Subsection 1 tells you that you can use “Physical Force” (not DPF) to stop someone from damaging your property. This means you cant shoot a kid who is spray painting the side of your house or egging your windows.

Arson however is another matter. Because burning down a building that contains or may contain people could result in their deaths or serious physical injury, Article 35 authorizes DPF to stop it.

 2. A person in possession or control of any premises, or a person licensed or privileged to be thereon or therein, may use physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such other person of a criminal trespass upon such premises. Such person may use any degree of physical force, other than deadly physical force, which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose, and may use deadly physical force in order to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of arson, as prescribed in subdivision one, or in the course of a burglary or attempted burglary, as prescribed in subdivision three.

Before I get into this subsection it’s important to understand the difference between “trespass” and “burglary”.

Trespass

  • By legal definition, trespass is when: a person knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises.
  • Simple trespass is only a violation. In NY a violation is not considered a “crime”. Crimes are misdemeanor’s and felonies.
  • Criminal Trespass of varying degrees are crimes. These occur when a person does things such as trespassing in a fenced in area, trespassing in a school, trespassing in a dwelling (which is different from burglary), or is trespassing while carrying a weapon.

Burglary

  • Burglary is defined as when someone knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in a building with intent to commit a crime therein.
  • Burglary in essence is: Trespassing Inside a Building + Criminal Intent=Burglary.
  • Burglary increases in criminal severity when participants are; armed, threaten someone with a weapon, injure somebody or burglarize a dwelling (which means a home/ place where people  usually sleep at night).

So….like as subsection 1 says about damage to property, this subsection says the exact same thing about trespass/criminal trespass. You can use any degree of “Physical Force” but not DPF to stop a trespasser. As in subsection 1, Arson is an exception but this subsection adds burglary as an exception as well…when the conditions in subsection 3 are met.

 3. A person in possession or control of, or licensed or privileged to be in, a dwelling or an occupied building, who reasonably believes that another person is committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling or building, may use deadly physical force upon such other person when he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission of such burglary.

If you own, are in charge of or allowed to be in a dwelling (in simple terms…a home) OR any occupied building, you can use DPF if you reasonably believe it to be necessary to stop a burglary.

Note the subtleties…it says “a dwelling” OR an “occupied building“. It did not say “an occupied dwelling“. So if it’s a dwelling DPF is authorized regardless of your knowledge of it’s current occupancy. A building other than a dwelling and you have to know it is occupied.

A local incident illustrates this law in operation and is a case that showcases what “reasonably believes” means:

YNN has learned that 31-year-old David Park’s BAC was .18, more than twice the legal limit for drivers in New York state, when he walked into an Amherst home around 1 a.m. on March 28th.

According to Tom Burton, the home owner’s attorney, David D’Amico repeatedly warned Park to leave and even told him he had a gun and would use it. When he ignored the warning, D’Amico fired one shot. He told police he believed Park was a burglar.

See more at:

In early 2013 a man from out of town was visiting friends at their home. He had been drinking and for whatever reason decided to leave the house. He later came back to what he most likely thought was the same house he left. When he found the front door locked and the lights out he went over the fence to the rear yard and entered through an unlocked rear patio door. The homeowner, hearing someone in his home, grabbed his shotgun. He states that the intruder came to the foot of the stairs and started climbing ignoring commands to stop and warnings that the homeowner was armed. It’s stated that the intruder said nothing at all. The homeowner shot and killed the intruder.

In the aftermath, as the truth is discovered that  the intruder was an unarmed school teacher with no criminal history, all sorts of second guessing the homeowner began. Some people seemed to believe that because the homeowner left his patio door unlocked, or that this was “just a lost drunk”, that somehow this was an unjustified use of force. To the contrary, this is exactly a situation this law was crafted for. Remember, reasonableness is defined as what an average person in similar circumstances might believe at the time of the event. The law requires only a reasonable, not necessarily correct, judgment of the situation.  An intruder in your home at 1 AM who advances on you while ignoring all warnings and commands is presumed to be committing a burglary by any reasonable person.

What the facts turn out to be later doesn’t change the justification to use force if ones actions are reasonable under the circumstances at the time the incident happened.

 4. As used in this section, the following terms have the following meanings:

(a) The terms “premises,” “building” and “dwelling” have the meanings prescribed in section 140.00;
(b) Persons “licensed or privileged” to be in buildings or upon other premises include, but are not limited to:

(i) police officers or peace officers acting in the performance of their duties; and
(ii) security personnel or employees of nuclear powered electric generating facilities located within the state who are employed as part of any security plan approved by the federal operating license agencies acting in the performance of their duties at such generating facilities. For purposes of this subparagraph, the term “nuclear powered electric generating facility” shall mean a facility that generates electricity using nuclear power for sale, directly or indirectly, to the public, including the land upon which the facility is located and the safety and security zones as defined under federal regulations.

This last section covers definitions and where they can be located elsewhere within the law. It also gives police and other security personnel the powers of “being licensed or privileged” to use DPF to stop a burglary of a dwelling or occupied building. Otherwise they wouldn’t have the legal authority to do that part of their job.

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