A bit before noon on a Wednesday of last week, a woman was awakened by her neighbor repeatedly ringing her doorbell. It seems she had parked her car in such a way that it blocked her neighbor’s driveway and the neighbor was not very happy about it. Since the neighbor was loudly threatening her, she took a revolver with her as she went to move her car.
The neighbor apparently kept threatening her and according to police, it got to the point that she feared for her life and that of her infant so she fired one shot into the air. It’s not clear who called the police but when they arrived they arrested the neighbor who they said had alcohol on her breath. The neighbor was arrested and charged with breach of peace. She had been arrested twice back in October on minor assault charges.
Police said the woman’s warning shot was lawful under Castle Doctrine since she feared for her life on her own property.
No, it’s not.
Warning shots are never legal. That’s not to say that sometimes people don’t get away with one but that doesn’t make them legal. And Castle Doctrine isn’t relevant. Even if Castle Doctrine in South Carolina extends onto the property outside of the home (not all state laws include the home’s curtilage), Castle Doctrine in and of itself does not give anyone permission to shoot anyone they are afraid of any more than Stand Your Ground laws do. Castle Doctrine simply removes the legal duty to retreat before deadly force is used in self-defense. All other conditions necessary to legally use deadly force in self-defense must still be in place.
The most relevant in this case would seem to be imminence. The deadly attack has to be happening now, in the moment. Not just threatened. And the neighbor would also have to have had the means, the opportunity, and have demonstrated the intent to bring a deadly attack. The neighbor was not armed that we know of.
The problem with warning shots is that they are intended to change someone’s behavior. They are a warning to “back off or I’ll shoot you” which means the threat has not yet reached the level of deadly force. If it has, the defender would in fact be defending themselves instead of taking the time to fire a warning. Besides, that round in the air has to land somewhere and that could lead to recklessly endangering others.
Warning shots are never a good idea. Either you are justified in using your gun to defend your life or you aren’t. If you aren’t then the gun stays in the holster.