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So I am reading a fictional book, that takes place in Sweden, and there is a situation presented that strike me as implausible.

A female character is being "stalked" by another character, and received emails suggesting violence and also had her property damaged. Also she had proof that someone entered her home when she was not home and stole things. Presumably the stalker.

In response, this character then sought to arm herself, in her home, with golf clubs in various parts of the house. The thought was in case of another forced entry she could bash the guy over the head with a golf club.

Instead she was encouraged to have armed security because if she killed the intruder, under Swedish law, she could very well be charged with manslaughter, and possibly murder if it could be proved that she placed the golf clubs around the house ahead of time.

Is this true in Sweden? Can a person be convicted of manslaughter or murder if they kill an intruder that they suspect of ill intent?

The situation seemed implausible to me, and that the author kind of flubbed this one.

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  • I am not very knowledgable about Swedish law, but many places have a "duty to retreat" if possible without endangering oneself, before engaging in self-defense. In the US, this generally does not extend to one's home, but again I don't know about Swedish law. What is true is that a murder charge generally requires prior knowledge, and preparation before an event can be construed as prior knowledge. So the "upgrade" to murder seems plausible, if the manslaughter charge is valid.
    – sharur
    Nov 5, 2019 at 14:59

3 Answers 3

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There are problems with the claims.

In summary: someone that in Sweden acts to defend themselves while "in peril" when subjected to — or are in imminent risk of — a criminal attack, will not the convicted, unless the act is "blatantly unjustifiable".


Context

We have a problem here in Sweden with people being ill-informed about the right to self-defence, and this is compounded by people with opinions spreading myths about it. Often these myths err on the side of claiming you have less rights than you really have.

So, two things before we go on...

  1. The characters may have been unreliable. Do not ever assume that just because a character says something in a work of fiction, that the character is meant to know what they are talking about.

And even if they are meant to know what they are talking about...

  1. The author may have been unreliable, and done their homework poorly.

Keep this in mind...

That said, the right to self-defence is not infinite.

The law

According to the Swedish Criminal Code (Brottsbalk, 1962:700), Chapter 3, §§ 1-2 and 6...

  • If you intentionally kill someone, you get convicted of "murder"
  • If you intentionally kill someone, but there were mitigating circumstances, you get convicted of "manslaughter"
  • If you act in reckless disregard for the risk your actions are causing, and this leads to the death of someone, you get convicted of "causing the death of another", or what we here can call "reckless killing"

And Swedish Criminal Code (Brottsbalk, 1962:700), Chapter 24, § 1 states that an act performed in "peril" shall only lead to a conviction if the act was "blatantly unjustifiable".

"Peril" is enumerated to exist in cases of...

  • A commenced or imminent criminal attack on person or property
  • A person has gained or trying to gain unauthorized access to a room, house, yard or ship
  • A person refuses to leave a domicile after being told to
  • If — when caught red-handed — a person uses violence or threats of violence to resist stolen property from being retaken

When judging whether an act is "blatantly unjustifiable", the prosecutor must look at...

  • the nature of the attack that caused the peril
  • the significance of that which the attack was aimed at (such as a human life)
  • other significant circumstances

That last bit is interesting because it takes human psychology into consideration, and let the defendant's assessment of the peril be the standard by which the act is judged.


The claim

Let us start with the easy bit first...

"if she killed the intruder, under Swedish law, she could very well be charged with manslaughter, and possibly murder if it could be proved that she placed the golf clubs around the house ahead of time."

Murder? No. According to the Swedish Criminal Code (Brottsbalk, 1962:700), Chapter 3, §§ 1-2, a person that kills an intruder in their home could at the most be charged with manslaughter, because there are mitigating circumstances, i.e. the person felt threatened and there was a home invasion in progress.

In order for this to become murder, she would more or less have to have invited the assailant or in any other way drawn them in with the intent to kill them.

Yes, she prepared to defend herself or a potential intrusion, but without knowing for certain that the assailant would come at certain time or at least a certain day, any kind of premeditation towards killing is more or less impossible to prove.

With this, murder is off the table. That claim is simply wrong. Whether it is the author or the character that is erring, I cannot say.

So, manslaughter then, or the even lesser degree, called "causing the death of another", or reckless killing.

Manslaughter would come up of she — when whacking them with the club — did so with the intent of killing them.

The operative word here being intent. The prosecutor has to prove that intent.

Sure, we can dream up scenarios where this is the case; the classic reason for why people do get convicted even acting in peril is when they keep harming the assailant after the danger has passed.

But — again — just preparing for a potential intrusion is not enough to prove that intent.

Finally, reckless killing. This is where such cases usually ends up. And — again — this usually happens because the defendant did something when the danger has obviously passed; the criminal attack was no longer imminent but passed.


Conclusion

Unless the protagonist in question had set up lethal traps; unless they had foreknowledge of an attack; unless they invited the assailant in with the intent to kill them; unless they fend off the attack and gets themselves into a perfectly safe situation and then proceeds to beat the assailant to death; and unless all of this can be proved, then it cannot become murder.

Manslaughter or reckless killing, yes, there will be an investigation for that, but from the description of the situation — the protagonist fearing the assailant is dangerous and means them harm — preparing a home defence with strategically placed golf clubs does not in any way preclude the prosecution being dismissed as justifiable self-defence.

Only(!) if the home invasion was obviously harmless, and/or the protagonist keeps harming the assailant after the home invasion has been staved off / neutralised, can a conviction for manslaughter or reckless killing become a possibility.


Summary

Yes, in Sweden a prosecutor will look at the case when you kill someone.

But — no — in the situation described, a home invasion by someone perceived as wanting to cause harm, this is very unlikely to become "murder", for lack of premeditation.

The remaining possible charges — manslaughter or reckless killing — will only result in a conviction if the situation was obviously and provably harmless in the eyes of the defendant, and they still killed the assailant.

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  • "the classic reason for why people do get convicted even acting in peril is when they keep harming the assailant after the danger has passed" By that, do you mean "running away, outside the house" or "passed out on the floor"? For the latter, would the defense of "I didn't know if he was faking it or not! If he was, he could spring up and murder me once I lowered my guard!" work?
    – nick012000
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:22
  • @nick012000 There was a quite known case where a home owner shot two assailants as they were running away. One of them fell, injured, the home owner walked up, put a shot in their chest and they died. The sentence was manslaughter and aggravated assault, resulted in compensatory damages being paid to the family of the killed, and the injured one.
    – MichaelK
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:35
  • As for "passed out on the floor" and "could not be sure that they were faking and would spring on you", well, it would be easy to author a scenario where this would be a viable justification. We can also author one where it is not. But — yes — your subjective appraisal of the situation and what could happen next will be considered. Do note though that this is very much a "common sense" paragraph, and you could very well be getting "No, now you are just being silly, telling us that" back. In short: do not abuse the right to self-defence for funsies or retribution.
    – MichaelK
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:38
  • Excellent answer. I am sure it was the author in error despite he being Swedish. This occured in one of the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" novels.
    – Pete B.
    Jun 6, 2023 at 17:00
  • @PeteB. I have that book, can you pinpoint the chapter? It might help to get some context.,
    – MichaelK
    Jun 6, 2023 at 17:04
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It certainly makes a claim of self-defence harder to justify.

In Sweden, the law of self-defense (Swedish: nödvärn) allows a person attacked to excuse or justify a proportionate use of violence in defense of the person or property.

The criteria is if the force used was "blatantly unjustifiable". By placing golf clubs the stalking victim is preparing to respond with violence to a threat which is not immanent.

There are other things she could do instead. Like, engaging a security guard. Or putting screens on the windows and deadlocks on the doors. Or having a friend stay over, Or telling the police.

She is certainly at risk of invalidating a self-defense claim. Putting the golf clubs around the house indicates that she is planning to use (potentially deadly) violence in response to an attack rather than reacting with violence proportionate to the threat in the moment. You cannot use deadly force to prevent a break-in or a theft - only to protect a life.

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    – Dale M
    May 29, 2023 at 22:18
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as someone that lives in Sweden even tho i am not very knowledgeable about the law outside of the common scenes and such but i do know that planning on violence will not be the problem but rather using excessive violence than necessary, ex you can punch someone unconscious but continue will cause you to be charged to, hitting them wont be the problem but rather hitting them before they hit you or hitting them when you know they wont/cant attack back will be on your hands. maybe a little bit late but hope this helps

ps sorry for my english

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  • Your English is certainly better than my Swedish!
    – Pete B.
    Aug 25, 2020 at 14:53

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