A recent news report of the shooting of a process server as he attempted to serve legal papers at a Tulsa home offers an opportunity to look at self-defense laws and the challenge of finding the truth in a criminal case. It was Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan who wrote that a judge or jurors acting as the factfinders in a criminal case “cannot acquire unassailably accurate knowledge of what happened.” Justice Harlan was describing the reasoning behind the burden of proof in criminal cases as beyond a reasonable doubt as opposed to absolute certainty. The Tulsa incident presents a good example of how stories about what happened can be so divergent.
Shooter claims he was only defending himself
According to news reports, a process server was shot as he walked away from a home after serving legal papers to one of the residents. Police arrested the shooter and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon.
In a statement made after his arrest, the man claims he fired his gun in self-defense only after the process server tried to break into the house while making verbal threats and displaying a firearm. According to the accused, he believes he would be dead had he not fired in self-defense.
Footage from a surveillance camera at the home shows the process server standing away from the front door of the home and pulling a paper from his back pocket as he is engaged in a conversation with someone inside the house. The video shows the process server turning and walking away from the front of the house before stopping to again exchange words with person in the house. The footage shows the process server again turning and walking away from the house as a puff of smoke can be seen coming from the direction of the front door.
The video does not have sound, so it’s impossible to tell what was said by the process server or by the person to whom he was speaking. It is also not clear if there is additional footage that has not been released to the public that may show more of what occurred.
If the case goes to trial, a judge or jury will be asked to determine from all of the evidence presented at a trial whether it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime occurred. They will also need to apply the state’s self-defense law in making that determination.
Oklahoma self-defense law and defense against intruders
The right to defend against physical harm from an attack by another person can be a defense to a criminal charge depending upon the facts proven by the evidence at trial. The law in Oklahoma allows you to use deadly force under any of the following circumstances
· Resisting the use of deadly force against you to commit a murder or a felony upon you or your home.
· When used in defense of another person when you reasonably believe such force to be necessary to prevent bodily harm or to prevent a forcible felony.
· When necessary to apprehend a person who committed a felony or to suppress a riot or to preserve and keep the peace.
Legislation in Oklahoma extends the concept of self-defense even further to authorize the use of force against someone breaking into your home. The statutepresumes that an intruder breaking into your home represents a threat to you and your family, so it gives residents the right to use deadly force against the person.
The legislature chose “Physical or Deadly Force Against Intruder” as the official name of the statute, but it quickly became known as the “Stand Your Ground” law because of a key provision. The law states that you no longer have to retreat from an attack before you may claim self-defense in the use of force as had been required in the past.
Consult an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney
Anyone involved in a self-defense situation needs experienced legal counsel. Facts are critical in the success or failure of defending a criminal charge by claiming self-defense, so the sooner your attorney begins working on your behalf and speaking with police and prosecutors the better the chances of a favorable outcome.