A Seattle area home was seriously disrupted around 5:00 AM when a pair of masked men kicked down the front door to the house and demanded money and valuables from those they found inside.
The men were armed with pepper spray, but another resident came from another room armed with a gun. He thought the others in the home were being held at gunpoint, so he opened fire, killing one of the suspects. The other ran away but was believed by police to have been injured, so they were checking local hospitals, but there was no sign of him as of this report.
One of the conditions necessary for using deadly force to be justified in a self-defense incident is that one has to face an imminent deadly force threat. But what if the threat only appears to be deadly instead of a real deadly threat? While pepper spray can be threatening, it won’t normally rise to the level of a deadly threat unless there is some kind of severe medical condition involved that could cause death if exposed.
Fortunately, self-defense law does not require us to make perfect decisions, only reasonable ones. So the question is, is it reasonable for someone who just heard and then possibly saw their front door kicked open. Now there are two masked men holding something in their hands while demanding money and stuff from others in the home to reasonably believe that these two intruders posed a deadly threat to everyone in the house? It’s 5:00 AM, so it could be somewhat dark inside the home, making it harder to determine between pepper spray and a gun.
Did the roommate act reasonably when he fired on the masked men in his home? Was his belief that the others in the house were being held at gunpoint reasonable? I would suggest that a case could be made that his actions were reasonable.
Legally it doesn’t matter whether the suspects were armed or not. What matters is would any other reasonable person come to the same conclusion and act as the roommate did, given the same circumstances? Again, our decisions and subsequent actions don’t have to be perfect, just reasonable.
Imagine if the suspects were brandishing lookalike airsoft guns instead of pepper spray. There is no threat from them, but a reasonable person seeing them would think they are real and, therefore, would be justified in acting as if they were real guns—same principle.