Fighting back against criminals: What’s permissible under Indiana law?

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (November 19, 2014) - Some Indianapolis residents are fighting back against criminals, but what's permissible under Indiana law?

Early Wednesday morning, a man police say was trying to break into a home on 35th Street, was shot and killed by a relative of the homeowner.

Tuesday afternoon, police say 25-year-old Tyerre Allen was attempting to rob the Cash America Pawn store on 38th Street when he was shot and killed by a customer.

Last Thursday, a homeowner on West 34th Street says he shot a man trying to break into his home. That man survived and was later arrested.

"Hopefully this is a lesson to him," says the homeowner, Howard Murphy. "Unfortunately, it had to happen like this, but I guess he'll have plenty of time to think about breaking into other people's houses before he'll come back on 34th and do that again."

Criminal Defense Attorney Ross Thomas says Indiana has broad statutes when it comes to self-defense.

"The protection of yourself and your family and your property is something that Indiana law clearly sets out with great force," says Thomas.

He says Indiana has a "castle doctrine," which means you have a right to protect yourself, your family and your home.

Thomas says the state does not have a "duty to retreat" requirement, which is when force can only be used as a last resort. In "duty to retreat" states, if you can get away, you legally must attempt to do so before using force.

You are allowed to use reasonable force to protect yourself, but what's reasonable won't be defined by the "reasonable man standard" in court, Thomas says.

"As a juror, you would be asked to put yourself in that person's shoes; not what you would have done, not what a reasonable person would have done, but what would you have done in that person's shoes?" says Thomas.

Indiana law allows for the use of deadly force to protect you or another person from serious bodily injury or death, says Thomas, but it also allows for force if a felony is occurring.

"Indiana law allows for deadly force to prevent a forcible felony," Thomas says. "That is a felony that has the possibility of resulting in injury. Clearly armed robbery fits the definition of forcible felony."

However, Thomas says that it is important for people to remember that they can't claim self-defense if they are committing a crime. So if they are illegally carrying a weapon, the same legal standards would not apply.

Brian Ludlow owns Indy Trading Post on Madison Avenue. He says there are risks to fighting back, and while many of his customers want to level the playing field with criminals, he always advises them to go through training.

"I always use the comparison of guns and cars. You wouldn't get in a car if you haven't driven one before and just try to drive it. There's a certain amount of training and practice involved in that," says Ludlow. "The same thing goes with guns."

Ludlow points to a number of courses offered through Indy Trading Post, saying, "You'll be taught all the ins and outs of guns; how to shoot them, how to use them properly, how to store them properly. We also offer a class called Basic Protection in the Home to show you the different scenarios that may happen if you're ever involved in a home invasion."

Ludlow also suggests investing in a safe or lock, especially if there are children in the home. Indy Trading Post will even provide free locks to interested customers.

"They have safes out there now that are biometric, they operate off your fingerprints. Your kids can't open those. If someone breaks into your house, they can't get it open because it only recognizes your fingerprints," he says.

If you're worried about getting to your gun in an emergency, Ludlow says, "As long as you know what those are or where the keys are, you should be able to access those fairly quickly too if the need ever arises."

If you aren't comfortable with a gun, there are other non-lethal alternatives, but that doesn't mean they are without risk.

"We have stun guns, mace, but you need to know how to use them as well. You shouldn't just buy something like that and think you'll be able to use it. You should practice it and the different scenarios," says Ludlow.

There could also be an added risk if someone was to break into your home, says Ludlow.

"The only problem with those is if you have a stun gun and a bad guy has a hand gun. That may not fare real well at the end of the day," he says.

Firearm courses are scheduled on an as needed basis, so Ludlow suggests calling Indy Trading Post for more information at 317-782-4867.