Montana has some of the best all-around self-defense laws in the nation, including a formidable and clearly codified castle doctrine statute.
Broadly, citizens may use force including lethal force, in self-defense of an occupied structure so long as they are doing so to prevent the commission of any forcible felony to any occupant of the structure.
Although Montana’s functional laws on the subject are spread out across multiple sections in the state statutes, they are nonetheless easy to read and logically laid out.
We will provide you with a good overview of the state’s laws, and everything you need to know, but make sure you read the exact text of Montana’s castle doctrine and other relevant laws included at the end of this article.
Montana law justifies the use of lethal force in defense of an occupied property to prevent the entry or attempted entry of a person that they believe is going to assault someone inside the occupied structure.Lethal force may also be used in defense of an occupied structure if the defender reasonably believes that that level of force is necessary to prevent the commission of any other forcible felony inside the structure.Montana law also clearly states that at no point does a person who is using defensive force and a place they have a legal, lawful right to behave any duty to retreat from a threat prior to resorting to force in defense.
Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in Montana
As mentioned above, Montana’s self-defense laws are roundly superb. Decisively clear, easy to interpret and broad in their protection of defenders, here’s hoping that their castle doctrine statute will become a model that the rest of the country can follow.
There are only two basic tenets you need to understand concerning Montana’s castle doctrine law.
The first is that a person has a right to defend themselves and other occupants of an occupied structure.
This occupied structure could be a home, place of business or temporary habitation. But this justification of force in self-defense is predicated upon the actions of the aggressor.
Force must always be proportional to the threat, and lethal force is only justified if it is being used to prevent the entry or attempted entry of a person who, the defender reasonably believes, is going to assault them or someone else inside the occupied structure.
Additionally, lethal force is justified to prevent the commission or imminent commission of any other forcible felony inside that same occupied structure.
In Montana law, forcible felonies include so-called grievous crimes, examples being home invasion, robbery, rape, carjacking, and so forth.
The second tenet is that Montana law is quite clear that at no time does a defender have any duty or other obligation to the law to retreat from a threat under those circumstances, to attempt retreat, or to attempt to summon help prior to resorting to force, lethal or not.
This is predicated upon the defender being in a place where they have a legal, lawful right to be. If you’re staying in your home, as an invited guest of someone else’s home or structure, at your own business, or at temporary lodging you obviously have a legal right to be there
It must be pointed out that the use of lethal force in defense of an occupied structure can only be justified if the structure is indeed occupied.
You cannot use lethal force to prevent the theft of property, non-forceful trespass or other crimes of that nature.
Force may be used under Montana law to the extent necessary that the defender believes it is required to terminate trespass or criminal interference with real or personal property.
So, you may use force to stop someone from stealing some lawn tools from your backyard, for instance, but you would not be justified in resorting to lethal force unless it was eminently necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony as above.
Montana is an unabashedly pro self-defense state, one with a strong castle doctrine statute.
So long as a defender is protecting themselves or someone else inside an occupied structure they have a legal right to be in, lethal force is justified in order to prevent a forcible felony inside the structure or the attempted assault of someone inside the structure.
At no time does a defender under such circumstances have an obligation to retreat or to attempt retreat prior to using force.
Relevant Montana Castle Doctrine Statutes
(1) “Force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm” within the meaning of this chapter includes but is not limited to:
(a) the firing of a firearm in the direction of a person, even though no purpose exists to kill or inflict serious bodily harm; and
(b) the firing of a firearm at a vehicle in which a person is riding.
(2) ”Forcible felony” means any felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.
45-3-102. Use of force in defense of person.
A person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary for self-defense or the defense of another against the other person’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, the person is justified in the use of force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm only if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to the person or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
45-3-103. Use of force in defense of occupied structure.
(1) A person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s unlawful entry into or attack upon an occupied structure.
(2) A person justified in the use of force pursuant to subsection (1) is justified in the use of force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm only if:
(a) the entry is made or attempted and the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent an assault upon the person or another then in the occupied structure; or
(b) the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony in the occupied structure.
45-3-104. Use of force in defense of other property.
A person is justified in the use of force or threat to use force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s trespass on or other tortious or criminal interference with either real property, other than an occupied structure, or personal property lawfully in the person’s possession or in the possession of another who is a member of the person’s immediate family or household or of a person whose property the person has a legal duty to protect. However, the person is justified in the use of force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm only if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
45-3-105. Use of force by aggressor.
The justification described in 45-3-102 through 45-3-104 is not available to a person who:
(1) is attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a forcible felony; or
(2) purposely or knowingly provokes the use of force against the person, unless:
(a) the force is so great that the person reasonably believes that the person is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm and that the person has exhausted every reasonable means to escape the danger other than the use of force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to the assailant; or
(b) in good faith, the person withdraws from physical contact with the assailant and indicates clearly to the assailant that the person desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the assailant continues or resumes the use of force.
45-3-106. Use of force to prevent escape.
(1) A peace officer or other person who has an arrested person in custody is justified in the use of force to prevent the escape of the arrested person from custody that the officer or other person would be justified in using if the officer or other person were arresting the person.
(2) A guard or other peace officer is justified in the use of force, including force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, that the guard or officer reasonably believes to be necessary to prevent the escape from a correctional institution of a person whom the guard or officer reasonably believes to be lawfully detained in the institution under sentence for an offense or awaiting trial or commitment for an offense.
45-3-108. Use of force in resisting arrest.
A person is not authorized to use force to resist an arrest that the person knows is being made either by a peace officer or by a private person summoned and directed by a peace officer to make the arrest, even if the person believes that the arrest is unlawful and the arrest in fact is unlawful.
45-3-110. No duty to summon help or flee.
Except as provided in 45-3-105, a person who is lawfully in a place or location and who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement assistance prior to using force. The provisions of this section apply to a person offering evidence of justifiable use of force under 45-3-102, 45-3-103, or 45-3-104.
45-3-111. Openly carrying weapon — display — exemption.
(1) Any person who is not otherwise prohibited from doing so by federal or state law may openly carry a weapon and may communicate to another person the fact that the person has a weapon.
(2) If a person reasonably believes that the person or another person is threatened with bodily harm, the person may warn or threaten the use of force, including deadly force, against the aggressor, including drawing or presenting a weapon.
(3) This section does not limit the authority of the board of regents or other postsecondary institutions to regulate the carrying of weapons, as defined in 45-8-361(5)(b), on their campuses.
45-3-112. Investigation of alleged offense involving claim of justifiable use of force.
When an investigation is conducted by a peace officer of an incident that appears to have or is alleged to have involved justifiable use of force, the investigation must be conducted so as to disclose all evidence, including testimony concerning the alleged offense and that might support the apparent or alleged justifiable use of force.
45-3-115. Affirmative defense.
A defense of justifiable use of force based on the provisions of this part is an affirmative defense.
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