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Mar 29, 2012 10:16 AM by Drew Trafton

A look at defense law in Montana

BILLINGS- Even in Montana, more than 2,000 miles away from Florida, the controversial shooting death of 17-year- old Trayvon Martin is sparking debate via social media.

Much of the debate is centered around the self defense law, popularly known as Castle Doctrine-- which allows a resident to protect their self and property, which is being touted as a justification for the shooting.

Clearly, many of the details which will tell the full story of that tragic event have yet to be released.

But as the debate rages on closer to home, it raises the question of what defense law states here in Montana.

Senior Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ed Zink says Montana's law is far more developed than the ancient doctrine.

"Montana's law really applies wherever a person is, so long as they are there lawfully," said Zink. "They have a full range of self defense options to protect themselves against criminals."

Zink says much of the current law surrounding the extent of self defense was well established in jurisdictions statewide and in case law.

However, several current statutes were formally written into law by the 2009 Montana Legislature.

"One thing that the legislature wanted to make sure was written down was that a person has no duty to flee, or to run or to retreat before they protect themselves," said Zink.

To put the law very simply-a person may protect themselves or use deadly force if they have reasonable belief that they could be/ or are being forcibly attacked and could sustain serious injury or be killed by that force.

Of course, there are exceptions to that law.

To read the use of force law in Montana, please click here.

It was only months after, on August 11, 2009, that the new statutes were written that a man shot a co-worker in a Walmart in Billings.

"Careful consideration had to be taken as far as looking at who would be able to claim self defense, and if a self defense claim would be legitimate," said Billings Police Sergeant Jay Berry.

After a full investigation, it was determined that the shooter, who was initially arrested and then released, acted within the law.

However, that incident stands as a rare occasion that the law has been relevant in a criminal investigation when it comes to citizens.

Berry, who trains police and citizens taking the BPD Citizen Police Academy on the use of force, says most people are surprised to hear that the most common application of the law involves the police department.

And that's because police follow the guidelines set forth by the law when it comes to any forcible interaction their job requires.

"There's only one law," said Berry. "Police work under that law, the citizens work under that law, if you're a visitor to Montana you work under that law as far as defending yourself with the use of deadly force."


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