If I see a "No Tresapssing" sign on a house door, but I hear screems for help from inside. The window was left open by mistake and I see a big guy beating an unarmed man and getting ready to kill him.

Would I be justified in front of the law to break in and shoot for the big guy's gun? (I am also putting the big guy's life in danger by shootin but he comes out unharmed).

  • Question: Assuming that my claims about the imminent murder having been about to take place prove to be correct, will the law, as it stands written, find me guilty of any of the 2 crimes that I have just comitted?

The question is not about the morality or practicality of my actions. It is purely legal.

  • What is the analogy with the cases against Assange? Jun 12, 2019 at 1:58
  • @GeorgeWhite - He did a "break in" or tried to (not sure) because he got a hint from Manning that there are some crimes going on and tried to stop those crimes by exposing them (if I got it right). At least that's how some media outlets are portraying the case.
    – Alex Doe
    Jun 12, 2019 at 2:03
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    If the Assange case is your real question I would edit it to that or make it a separate question. The law can be very specific and getting legal answers to Q1 and Q2 are two entirely different things. Jun 12, 2019 at 2:14
  • If I look only at the title of your question and take it literally, then yes, preventing a murder will justify doing many illegal things. If you need to commit offended getting you s year in jail to prevent a murder, then this is very bad luck for you, but you should prevent the murder, then go to jail.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 24, 2021 at 22:58

2 Answers 2


There is a general defence to any crime called self defense. If you commit a crime, but the reason you commit it is because you are acting in self defense, or the defense of another, then you will not be found guilty of that crime.

For example, if you kill someone, but the court believes you are acting in self defense, then you will not be found guilty of murder (or manslaughter).

This defense extends to other crimes too, and trespassing would be included in this.

Acting in the defense of another person has the same effect as acting in self defense.

Just note that you would have to prove that it was reasonable for you to be acting in the way you did. Usually this means that the crime you committed was proportional or necessary to prevent the crime that would have occurred, and if self defense is involved, that it was necessary to do what you had to do to prevent harm to you or another.

  • 4
    Citation needed. Jun 12, 2019 at 4:24
  • 2
    It should be said that this isn't the case in every state in the United States (jurisdiction which was provided). Some states like Florida have Laws called "stand your ground"; Some states like Vermont and Washington, D.C. have "Duty to retreat" which "require citizens to flee from criminal assailants, even within their own homes". en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand-your-ground_law Jun 12, 2019 at 4:24
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    @StephanS I bet it is the case in every state in the union. Scotland has a "duty to retreat" too, but it still has a defence of "Self defence". The "duty to retreat"/"stand your ground" laws just alter what counts as "reasonable to be acting in the way you did". Jun 12, 2019 at 8:39
  • Please provide link(s) to actual law(s) or case laws that you can base your answer on
    – Alex Doe
    Jun 14, 2019 at 17:22

Virtually all states have laws that justify use of force to prevent a felony.

However, such laws do not excuse trespass. In English common law entering property even under exigent circumstances is still a trespass.

To answer your question exactly would require referral to a particular state or body of laws, but in general justifiable use of force laws only justify the use of force itself, not other laws that the person might be breaking.

For example, if the defending person himself was a felon and using a gun, just because he used the gun to defend someone else justifiably, does not mean he is not breaking the law against felons having guns.

  • Do you have a citation for this? Your analogy seems different to the original scenario. A person who defends with an unlawful gun which is already in his possession commits an offence because at the moment he took possession of the gun that act wasn't necessary for the act of self-defence (since they were independent events). That is a different scenario to if I see someone about to be killed and at that moment I notice a gun lying on the ground which I use to defend them. In that case the act of possession itself is a necessary part of the defence.
    – JBentley
    Aug 22, 2021 at 19:15
  • Whether something is legal or not depends on the law. For self defense, we shouldn't be surprised if the lawmakers didn't think of some rare circumstances. Imagine your ex-wife has a restraining order against you, and while saving her life you are breach the restraining order. I assume a prosecutor can just decline to prosecute you because it's not in the public interest.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 22, 2021 at 21:44

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