Oklahoma's Self Defense Laws, Doctrines, & Legal Defense


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The self-defense laws of Oklahoma are outlined in the “Stand Your Ground” doctrine, the Castle Doctrine, and the “Make My Day” doctrine. Some of these self-defense laws are included in title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes, such as sections 1290.22 and 1289.25 (which is part of the Oklahoma Firearms Act of 1971). Moreover, these doctrines have been further explained and supplemented via various Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals decisions.

The purpose of Oklahoma's self-defense laws are to provide legal protection to individuals who use force, including lethal force, to protect themselves or others from imminent harm or danger in their home, place of business, car, or anywhere they are legally entitled to be.

When an individual uses lethal force in self-defense or in the defense of others' lives, it is considered a justifiable homicide rather than murder or manslaughter.

Although Oklahoma self-defense laws are considered “permissive” by some standards, there are laws in place that regulate the circumstances under which the use of lethal force may be justified. 

What is Self-Defense According to Oklahoma Law?

According to Oklahoma law, self-defense is a legal concept that allows individuals to protect themselves or others from great bodily harm or the commission of a forcible felony against them through the use of reasonable force, including deadly force, under specific circumstances. 

Self-defense is also a legal defense strategy employed by criminal defense attorneys when a defendant uses force, including deadly force, to protect themselves or others. In cases where self-defense results in a homicide, defense attorneys will attempt to prove the killing was justified based on a threat to the defendant or others.

Each case’s specific facts determine whether or not self-defense is, in fact, an affirmative defense. Claims of self-defense must be supported by evidence that the person who used lethal force was in fear of imminent harm, was not the initial aggressor, and only responded with the appropriate amount of defensive force necessary, among other considerations.

What is Justifiable Homicide?

Under Oklahoma law, justifiable homicide refers to a situation in which the killing of another person is considered legally justified and lawful because there was a reasonable belief that such force was necessary to prevent death, severe bodily harm, or the commission of a felony. (this definition intentionally isn’t as complete as the one we will use on the “Justifiable homicide” page)

Link to justifiable homicide page.

What Happens After a Self-Defense Shooting in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, when one person shoots another person in self-defense, the major focus is whether or not the person who was shot ultimately dies from the gunshot wound or complications related to it. If the person does not die, criminal liability will be limited to attempted murder, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, and potentially maiming. If the person who was shot dies, the shooter may be liable for murder of some other lesser form of homicide. Either way, there will be an investigation into the shooting.

What To Do After a Self Defense Shooting in Oklahoma?

The steps below outline what to do after a self-defense shooting in Oklahoma.

  1. Place the firearm in a safe place away from physical reach.
  2. Call 911 to report an emergency situation and request officer assistance
  3. Do NOT admit to the shooting.
  4. Hang up the phone and wait for law enforcement to arrive.
  5. Once law enforcement arrives, Immediately request an attorney. DO NOT speak without an attorney present.

The shooter will likely be taken into custody while the investigation plays out. An experienced criminal attorney will be able to guide the process the rest of the way and explain the facts as necessary.

What Happens to Your Gun After a Self-Defense Shooting?

After a self-defense shooting, the weapon will be confiscated as evidence. Do not hide the weapon or otherwise try to dispose of it. A skilled prosecutor will try to argue that subsequent action shows an acknowledgement of guilt. The firearm will be logged and processed into evidence, and it will likely be sent to a government agency to test for latent prints (fingerprinting), firing capabilities, gunshot residue (GSR), and rifling to determine or confirm the type of ammunition the firearm is capable of discharging.

When Can You Shoot Someone in Self Defense in Oklahoma?

According to Oklahoma law, a person has the right to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves or others from imminent danger in their home, (include property/trespassing if that is the case), or any other place they have a lawful right to be present. Nevertheless, there are certain important limitations to keep in mind.

Can You Legally Shoot Someone for Trespassing in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, you cannot claim self-defense if you shoot someone for trespassing on your property unless the trespasser becomes an initial aggressor whose actions create a reasonable expectation that a forcible felony or great bodily injury will occur. At this point it is legal to use deadly force to repel them. 

In fact, self-defense is available to trespassers who attempt to retreat from imminent danger or an unlawful attack. If someone tresspasses on your property, your recourse is to immediately alert law enforcement if they are doing nothing more than trespassing on the property.

Can You Shoot Someone Breaking Into Your House Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, it is legal to shoot someone if they unlawfully enter your home. If someone breaks and enters into your dwelling house uninvited, you are justified in shooting (and killing) them. In Oklahoma, there is no duty to retreat from an intruder, and you are legally allowed to stand firm and defend yourself and others from the intruder. 

Moreover, you do not have to wait until the intruder has successfully entered your home. It is legal to shoot and kill an intruder who is in the process of unlawfully entering “a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, place of business or place of worship.” Whether an intruder is actually in the process of breaking and entering is a fact question subject to multiple different issues that must be analyzed. 

How Many Times Can You Shoot Someone in Self-Defense in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, the number of times you can shoot someone when acting in self-defense depends on the facts of the situation. A common rule of thumb is that once the threat the aggressor poses has been neutralized, it is no longer legal to shoot them. This is because the standard is gauged by what is reasonably necessary to defend yourself or others. 

If the aggressor flees or attempts to escape after one shot, you cannot continue to fire shots at them until they are dead. If one shot disables them and they are lying helplessly on the ground, you cannot continue to shoot them until they die. However, if more than one shot is necessary to neutralize the threat (such as a situation where the initial aggressor returns fire or continues to approach and threaten), you are allowed to shoot as many times as a reasonable person would shoot to terminate or prevent any further harm or forcible felony.

What Self-Defense Weapons Are Legal in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, it is legal to use any lawful weapon in defense or yourself or another. Under the law, self-defense encompasses the use of “deadly force” by any legal means. There is no definitive list of what weapons are allowed, but if the weapon in question can cause death, it can be employed as a method of dispensing deadly force in protection of yourself or others. 

The only distinction to be aware of is that, if you are a felon and thus precluded from possessing a firearm, use of such firearm in self-defense or defense of another will negate your ability to receive pretrial immunity via Oklahoma’s “stand your ground” laws. However, you may still be able to use the affirmative defense of self-defense or defense of another at your jury trial.

What Is the Punishment for Killing Someone in Self-Defense in Oklahoma?

If you are found to have acted in self-defense either through the use of pretrial immunity or an affirmative defense at trial, you will not be criminally punished, as the killing will be considered justified. 

If you are found to be immune prior to trial based on Oklahoma's “Stand Your Ground laws, there will be no criminal or civil liability. If you are found to be not guilty based on the affirmative defense of self defense at the conclusion of your trial, you will have no criminal liability, although you could arguably still be subject to civil liability, as those cases rest on a lower legal burden than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Can You Go to Jail for Self Defense in Oklahoma?

Yes, you can go to jail for acting in self-defense, and it is very possible that you will be arrested and potentially held without bond while the case proceeds if the person you shot dies as a result of the shooting. This is because, in the majority of situations, law enforcement will need to gather evidence as to what exactly occurred, and there will be arguments from the prosecution that you are a danger to the public due to your actions, unless and until they receive evidence that you did in fact act in self defense. Moreover, it is very common for judges in Oklahoma to deny bond to individuals charged with murder. You will have the right to argue for a bond, but if one is granted it will most likely be set at an extremely high amount. There is a very realistic possibility that you will have to wait in county jail while your attorney works to show your innocence or justified actions.

Is Killing in Self-Defense Considered Murder in Oklahoma?

No, killing in self-defense is not considered murder in Oklahoma, but certain criteria must be met for a killing to be considered justified, such as reasonable fear of imminent peril, the use of defensive force, and a legal justification for being in the location of the killing. In contrast, murder must show causation, intent, no legal justification.

Link to murder page

Is Killing in Self-Defense Considered Manslaughter in Oklahoma?

No, killing in self-defense is not considered manslaughter in Oklahoma, but again, certain criteria must be met for a killing to be considered justified such as reasonable fear of imminent peril, the use of defensive force, and a legal justification for being in the location of the killing. Furthermore, murder is not manslaughter, and there are various factors that must be analyzed when considering what level of homicide a specific situation amounts to legally.

What is Oklahoma's Stand Your Ground Law?

Oklahoma’s Stand Your Ground doctrine states that a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. Oklahoma's Stand Your Ground doctrine can be found in statute 21 O.S. § 1289.25(D).

This “no duty to retreat” offers greater permission for self-defense than is available in states without Stand Your Ground laws.

What Is an Example of the Stand Your Ground Law in Oklahoma?

The following is an example of the circumstances in which the Oklahoma Stand Your Ground law would apply. 

A person is walking to their car in a public parking lot late at night after shopping in a mall. They are approached by an individual who becomes aggressive and threatening, demanding the person's money and belongings. The person, feeling threatened and fearing for their life, believes that the aggressor intends to cause them serious bodily harm or death. In response to the threat, the person uses force, including deadly force, to protect themselves. This results in the aggressor being injured or killed.

In this scenario, Oklahoma's "Stand your ground" law may apply because of the following reasons.

  1. The person is not engaged in unlawful activity; they are lawfully going about their business.
  2. The attack occurs in a place where the person has a right to be (the public parking lot).
  3. The person reasonably believes that using force, including deadly force, is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to themselves.
  4. The use of force, in this case, is a response to a forcible felony (the aggressor's attempted robbery).

What Is Oklahoma's Castle Doctrine?

Oklahoma's Castle Doctrine states that a homeowner can use deadly force against an intruder if the person living in the home has a reasonable belief that they, or others in the home, are in danger of death or severe harm. While many states allow the use of reasonable force for self-protection inside one’s home, Oklahoma extends this right of self-defense to intruders in a place of work, worship, or even a vehicle.

Since the early days of English Common Law, courts have recognized the right of people to be safe within their own homes. The right of a person to be safe in their own home is often called the “Castle Doctrine” from the old adage that a man’s home is his castle.

What Is an Example of the Castle Doctrine in Oklahoma?

The following is an example of the circumstances in which the Oklahoma Castle Doctrine  would apply. 

A homeowner and his family are inside their residence at night. They hear a loud noise coming from the back of the house and become alarmed. The homeowner retrieves a legally owned firearm and proceeds to investigate the source of the noise. Upon entering a darkened room, the homeowner encounters an intruder who is armed and appears to pose an immediate threat. The homeowner, fearing for their life and the safety of their family, uses deadly force to defend themselves and neutralize the intruder.

In this scenario, the Oklahoma Castle Doctrine may apply because of the following reasons.

  1. The homeowner is inside their own residence, where they have a legal right to be.
  2. The homeowner has a reasonable belief that they, as well as other occupants of the home, are in danger of death or severe harm due to the intruder's presence and the fact that the intruder is armed.

What is Oklahoma's Make My Day Law?

Oklahoma’s Make My Day law states that Oklahomans have the “right to expect absolute safety” in their homes or businesses (and occupied vehicles). Oklahoma’s “Make My Day” doctrine is found in 21 O.S. § 1289.25, and it expands on the definition of justifiable homicide in § 733.

Under the language of the law, a person who uses defensive force against an intruder or someone attempting to gain unlawful entry into a home, business, or occupied vehicle is “presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm” to himself or herself, or to another person.

In Oklahoma, allowing force in self-defense is taken a step further than in many other states: Oklahoma law allows a person the right to use deadly force against an intruder in his or her home, place of work, and even a personal vehicle.

There are, however, situations in which the use of defensive force against another person entering a home or business is not justifiable. If the person against whom defensive force is used has a lawful right to be in the home or business (and there is not court order restricting that right), if the person against whom defensive force is used is lawfully attempting to remove children under his or her lawful custody, or if the person who uses defensive force is engaged in unlawful activity, the use of deadly force will not be considered justifiable.

Hiring a Self-Defense Attorney in Oklahoma

Sometimes, a case of self-defense homicide seems cut and dried; other times, a person who thought they were  acting in accordance with Oklahoma self-defense laws finds themselves booked into the Tulsa County Jail or Oklahoma County Jail on a murder or manslaughter complaint.

If you or a loved one has used lethal force to defend yourself, your family, your co-workers, or others, it is important that you contact a self-defense lawyer for legal counsel and representation. For a confidential, risk-free case evaluation, call Oklahoma defense attorney Adam R. Banner at (405) 778-4800.