How Far is Too Far: Is Your Use of Force Justified? | Missouri

In Missouri, there is a difference between “legally justified use of force,” as it applies generally, and “deadly force.”

Use of Force

Legally justified use of force pertains to circumstances which, under the law, justify you in using force such that it shall be an absolute defense to criminal prosecution or civil liability. Does Missouri law define the use of force? No. The non-deadly use of force is not specifically defined under Missouri statute. The courts have held that it must be given its ordinary meaning. A common definition is that of violence, compulsion, or constraint exerted upon a person. The use of force in defense of property, for example, must be reasonable and cannot be so far down the continuum of force that it becomes deadly.

What is Reasonable?

“Reasonableness” is determined by what a reasonable person believes would be appropriate. In cases of ordinary self-defense, a person may be justified in using physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third-person, from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person. Use of force may or may not be justified by a reasonableness standard in many situations.

What is Deadly Force?

Certain situations permit a person to use deadly force under the law. Deadly force is a special subset of the justified use of force doctrine. Missouri law defines deadly force as physical force which the actor uses with the purpose of causing, or which he or she knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death or serious physical injury. Serious physical injury is defined as physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part of the body.

In Missouri, a person may use deadly force if they reasonably believe such force is necessary to defend against what they reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of unlawful deadly force or the commission of a forcible felony by another. Forcible felonies are defined as murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery, home invasion, or carjacking. You cannot use deadly force to defend your property. If you are just defending property, you are only justified in using reasonable force, not deadly force.

If you have additional questions on the legally justified use of force, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

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