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    How can homicide ever be justifiable? Ask the lawyer
    • July 9, 2024

    Q: A homicide means someone is killed.  It is very hard for me to understand how that can ever be justified.

    T. B., Bellflower

    Ron Sokol

    A:  You are correct that homicide is the act of killing another person. Under California Penal Code Section 197, there are certain instances where taking a life may be justified: (a) When you are acting in actual self-defense, (b) when you are defending your home or property, or (c) when you are either trying to make a citizen’s arrest, or seeking to keep the peace. Each of these defenses are subject to very careful assessment.

    Self-defense means you were in imminent danger of great bodily injury, and further that you only employed the level of force necessary to defend yourself.

    With regard to defending your home or property, there was an intruder who was intending to commit a violent crime, you reasonably believed the threat of harm was imminent, and it was both reasonable that you believed deadly force was necessary, and the amount of force you employed was reasonable.

    The defense of citizen’s arrest means a felony was involved which created a risk of death or great bodily injury, and the wrongdoer posed a future danger to society. As to keeping the peace, you were trying by lawful means to prevent a riot or violence from occurring.

    Q: A homicide can really be excusable or accidental? The D.A. is telling us no criminal charges are going to be brought because my friend’s death was “excusable.”

    F.S., Lomita

    A: You did not set forth the circumstances that the D.A. evaluated. Keep in mind that a prosecutor has a clear edict: He or she is not to bring a criminal case against anyone without a genuine belief that the crime can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

    An example of taking the life of another which may be deemed excusable or accidental would be at a shooting range, and (sadly) someone wanders into the target area.

    California Penal Code Section 195 sets forth that homicide is excusable (or may be deemed accidental) when it is done by accident and misfortune, or occurs in the performance of a lawful act by lawful means, with usual and ordinary care, and without any unlawful intent.

    A further example: A swimming instructor is teaching a young student, takes a brief restroom break and returns to find the student has drowned. It turns out the student had an unexpected aneurysm, that no one would have anticipated or predicted. Tragic indeed, but accidental.

    Ron Sokol has been a practicing attorney for over 40 years, and has also served many times as a judge pro tem, mediator, and arbitrator. It is important to keep in mind that this column presents a summary of the law, and is not to be treated or considered legal advice, let alone a substitute for actual consultation with a qualified professional.

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    ​ Orange County Register