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Michigan’s Self-Defense Laws: Who Is An Intruder?

Gavel depicting Michigan's self-defense laws

The world watched footage from Jeffrey Zeigler’s home surveillance camera that spotlighted Michigan’s self-defense laws.

The video shows the incident from April 2018. Brennan Walker – a 14-year-old from Rochester Hills, Michigan – knocked at Zeigler’s door. Then he ran away as Zeigler shot at him with a shotgun. It’s the same footage jury members watched in court at Jeffrey Zeigler’s trial.

Zeigler, age 53, is a retired firefighter in Rochester Hills, Michigan, claimed he and his wife thought Walker’s knocking at his door was a home invasion attempt.

In court, Walker testified that he opened the screen door to knock twice at their front door.

Zeigler’s wife came to the door and accused him of trying to break into their home.

Brennan Walker continued to try to explain that he was trying to get to Rochester High School after missing the bus. However, before he could make himself understood, Jeffrey Zeigler came to the door carrying his shotgun.

What the jury and the judge had to determine is whether Zeigler’s claim that he hadn’t meant to shoot and that the gun went off when he slipped is verified by what is shown on the video.

One of the investigators in this case has already told media outlets that his opinion about the incident changed when he saw the footage and that he became offended by what he saw.

Do Zeigler’s Actions Have Any Basis In Law?

Does Michigan state law allow you to shoot someone in self-defense? What does the law say about your gun rights when your home is being invaded? What constitutes a home invasion or a threat against your life?

You may have heard the term “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle Doctrine” in the discussion of these types of shootings. Here is what Michigan law states about self-defense:

Michigan Statues Regarding Self-Defense

There are two primary laws written about violent actions related to self-defense:

Presumption Regarding Self-Defense § 780.951

This law states that there is a presumption of self-defense in some instances where force – even deadly force – is used against someone. Here are the situations where that law applies when:

  • The person against whom force is used is in the process of breaking and entering or has broken in and entered a home or business.
  • The person against whom force is used is unlawfully attempting to take a person from a home or business.
  • When the person against whom force is used has occupied someone’s vehicle against their will AND
  • The person using force “honestly and reasonably believes” that the individual is engaging in the conduct described above.

Michigan Self-Defense Act § 780.972

This law pertains to the “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” ideas in Michigan’s self-defense laws. Under this law, you do not have a duty to retreat when being threatened as in other states.

This means that if the situation meets specific requirements, your actions will be assumed to be in self-defense. However, it is only assumed to be self-defense if the following applies:

Force other than deadly force can be used against another individual if:

  • You are somewhere you have a legal right to be with no duty to retreat.
  • You honestly and reasonably believe the use of force is necessary to defend yourself against the imminent and unlawful use of force by that person.

Deadly force may be used against another individual if you:

  • Are somewhere you have the legal right to be with no duty to retreat.
  • Honestly and reasonably believe the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm of yourself or someone else OR
  • Honestly and reasonably believe that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent sexual assault of yourself or someone else.

Conclusion

The problems can arise within that word “believes.” Did Zeigler and his wife genuinely believe themselves to be in the midst of a home invasion?

Maybe they did, although the behavior shown by Brennan Walker in the footage indicates pretty clearly that he was not trying to be threatening.

As we have seen in the charges and trial of Zeigler, investigators have not found his belief to be reasonable. He was convicted of:

  • One count of felony assault with the intent to commit great bodily harm.
  • One count of using a firearm while committing that felony.

Additionally, Zeigler is facing potential prison time when he is sentenced.

If you are facing charges for what you believe was an act of self-defense in Michigan, you need an experienced criminal attorney.

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This article was published on: October 17, 2018 and was last modified October 17, 2018