Colorado’s ‘make my day’ law |

Colorado’s ‘make my day’ law

Rohn K. Robbins,

Dirty Harry has been spotted in Colorado. In the halls of justice, no less. Well, not Clint cum Harry, exactly, but the ringing of his words anyway; “go ahead, punk, make my day.” Those words have become part of the lore and legend of the modern west, the 21st Century version of a cowboy shoot-em-up. But while most Coloradans have heard of the “make my day” law, what does it say and when does it apply? A quick case study first.The case which went to trial in Colorado Springs in late 2005 involved one Gary Lee Hill, age 24. The undisputed facts are these:On September 5, 2004, Hill got into a fight at a party with Amanda Padilla. The party was at Hill’s home and the fight was over a missing purse. Padilla punched Hill after which Hill grabbed a rifle and ordered Padilla and her friend, Alessandra Ash out of his house.Padilla and Ash returned with Padilla’s boyfriend, John David Knott, 19, and Ash’s boyfriend, Anthony Padilla. The four entered Hill’s basement room where he was asleep and Amanda Padilla punched him again. This time, though, she punched Hill with her ladylike brass knuckles, opening a gash in his head.When the foursome left Hill’s house, Hill grabbed his rifle, loaded it, and fired once from the porch at the car in which John Knott was sitting. None of the assailants were attempting to flee, rather they were simply sitting in the car outside Hill’s home. Knott died of a gunshot wound to his back.The salient facts then, are these: the two Padillas, with Ash and Knott, broke into Hill’s home and assaulted him. Afterward, they left and sat in a car in front of Hill’s home. Hill grabbed his rifle, stood on his porch and fired into the car and struck Knott, killing him.Okay, now back to ‘make one’s day” or, in the case of Gary Lee Hill, his after-party night.The Make My Day Law, more formally know as the Colorado Homeowner Protection Act, is encoded in the Colorado Revised Statutes at Section 18-1-704.5. That section of the Colorado Statutes is entitled “Use of Physical Force Against an Intruder.”The Act provides: (1) The general assembly … recognizes that the citizens of Colorado have a right to expect absolute safety within their own homes. (2) … any occupant of a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when that other person has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling, and when the occupant has a reasonable belief that such other person has committed a crime in the dwelling in addition to the uninvited entry, or is committing or intends to commit a crime against a person or property in addition to the uninvited entry, and when the occupant reasonably believes that such other person might use any physical force, no matter how slight, against any occupant.(3) Any occupant of a dwelling using physical force, including deadly physical force, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall be immune from criminal prosecution for the use of such force.(4) Any occupant of a dwelling using physical force, including deadly physical force, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall be immune from any civil liability for injuries or death resulting from the use of such force.In summary, what the law provides is: 1) there is an expectation of safety and security in one’s own home; 2) if someone breaks into your home and where the homeowner “reasonably believes” that the intruder has committed, or intends to commit another crime and that the intruder “reasonably believes” that the intruder might use even the smallest quantum of physical force against an occupant, anyone within the home may use physical force even deadly force to protect the household against the intruder; 3) and if you do so, you cannot be prosecuted either for the commission of a crime or civilly for money damages.What then, of Gary Lee Hill? First, was he protected by the Act in that he shot one of the intruders outside of the home as the intruders were leaving, and second, if the use of deadly force was justified, how did he find himself in a courtroom defending himself from charges of murdering John David Knott?His defense was, in essence, that when he fired the rifle, he was afraid that the people outside his home would return and attack him again if he did not defend himself.On Dec. 14 the jury found Hill not guilty, hanging its hat on the fact that the assailants were not leaving and, in lingering in front of Hill’s home, they had continued to engage him. Accordingly, the jury found, it was “reasonable” for Hill to believe that the group might return and use physical force against him. In the end, it boiled down to the “reasonableness” of Gary Lee Hill’s actions and perceptions. Most legal commentators would agree that the Hill case represents the broadest reach of Colorado’s Make My Day Law. Some would argue that the Hill case represented a miscarriage of justice, if for no other reason that the shooting took place outside of the dwelling after the intruders had already fled.What the Hill case points out, at the least, is there, at present, no clear line where an intruder must be before deadly force is employed. One of the legislators who helped write the law, Sen. Jim Brandon, opined however, following the Hill decision, “In our mind, the door is the threshold.” For the time being, however, to the extent the Hill case is precedent, it appears the Make My Day Law is broader that its plain language may suggest. What is clear, however, is that one may use deadly force within one’s dwelling where an intruder has entered and any of the householders reasonably apprehend that even a modicum of force may be exercised against them in the commission of a further crime.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He can be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” He can be reached at 926-4461 or at, Colorado

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