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This question and quotes below (emphasis added) come from an article in today's paper titled "‘He started crying like a little baby’: 11-year-old brags about shooting suspected home invader."

A known home intruder was taking some things from a house. An 11 year old, home alone (/with the dog) at the time, picked up a gun and ordered the man out of the house.

Once the man made it outside, Chris fired a warning shot. The man, who was carrying a stolen laundry hamper, began running. Chris emptied the magazine, firing off 12 shots by the time the intruder neared a fence in the family’s front yard...The final shot hit the man in the leg as he was hopping the fence.

The Hunstville Times reports that use of deadly force for self defense is allowed in Alabama under the following circumstances:

  • About to use unlawful deadly physical force.
  • A burglar about to use physical force.
  • Engaged in kidnapping, assault, robbery, or rape.
  • Unlawfully and forcefully entering a home or car, or attempting to remove a person against their will. (There are exceptions for people who used to live there and are under no injunctions or domestic protection orders.)
  • Breaking into a nuclear power plant.
  • Using or about to use physical force against an owner, employee, or other person authorized to be on business property when the business is closed to the public while committing or attempting to commit a crime involving death, serious physical injury, robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, or a crime of a sexual nature involving a child under the age of 12.

Here, the alleged burglar was running away carrying some property, but which of the circumstances above does that fall into? Is "physical force" defined in the physics sense of accelerating mass? Is there another law which justifies this, that those articles missed?

Why is the shooter in that story an unprosecutable hero, and what set of conditions would allow someone else to justifiably shoot a fleeing burglar?


A comment has questioned the note about this shooter being "unprosecutable" but you can find support for that in the media coverage. The kid openly brags about what he did in international media and describes how the lesson folks are supposed to learn from this is "don't steal from us because we'll use deadly force in defense of our property," a use of force the state is showing is legal in practice. There is no discussion about prosecuting the shooter, from any relevant source (as far as I can find) and the only "suspect" referred to is the thief who got shot. The New York Post explicitly concludes, "The eleven-year old faces no charges, as Alabama law allows for one to use deadly force in the event of unlawful entry or burglary." All I could find from relevant sources was praise for the kid and his parents, who left the poorly trained 11-year-old alone with easy access to the loaded firearm. This source quotes an officer praising the boy's use of the weapon for self-defense and also asserts there are no charges pending. All coverage gives the clear impression that the only action being considered as a violation of the law is the theft.
Yes, I am wondering in this question what makes it a justified shooting. What are the circumstances that make it OK (in practice) for a layperson to shoot a fleeing burglar?

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    Why do you say that "the shooter in that story [is] an unprosecutable hero?" And you beg the question of whether the shooting was legally justified. – feetwet May 1 '16 at 20:50
  • @feetwet edited, does that help? – WBT May 2 '16 at 1:59
  • Not really: Evidently the state and media are getting on the bandwagon of celebrating what the child did. That the child is not being prosecuted does not mean he is "unprosecutable." (Though @cpast notes that due to his age he is not criminally.) The NYPost neither offers nor constitutes a coherent argument that the shooting was legally justified. Hence it appears you are begging the question, "Was this shooting legally justified?" – feetwet May 2 '16 at 3:21
  • Also, while I'm nitpicking: What is the significance of asking about the laws for "a layperson?" Do you really mean to suggest that the rules on use of lethal force are different for clergy, or some other profession? I assume you mean "people that are not officers of the law." Although the laws allowing police to use lethal force against a fleeing criminal have become pretty close to those of unsworn citizens. – feetwet May 2 '16 at 3:31
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    @feetwet This question is about the law in practice, which may or may not have anything to do with the law on the books. "The NYPost neither offers nor constitutes a coherent argument that the shooting was legally justified." That's why I ask this question here. If the NYPost article had a coherent argument, I wouldn't ask this question. And yes, I am trying to exclude any answers about what might give members of the law enforcement profession practical rights to shoot fleeing people from the scope of this question. – WBT May 2 '16 at 13:22
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You have pretty well enumerated when it is legal.

On the face of it it appears that the 11 year old acted illegally.

So, if he is not being prosecuted, why not?

  1. Age of criminal responsibility. Below a certain age (I don't know about Alabama but in NSW it is 12) a person cannot by law be held criminally responsible because they are deemed to lack the emotional and mental maturity to distinguish right from wrong; this is particularly relevant when the same action can be legal or illegal depending on rather nuanced circumstances.
  2. Public interest. A DA may consider that prosecution of this child in these circumstances is not in the public interest.
  3. Prospect of conviction. A sensible DA may decide that there is very little prospect that a jury will convict notwithstanding that there is adequate evidence to prove guilt. This is a subset of the public interest; it is in no one's interest to spend time and money on a trial that will probably end with an acquittal.
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    Alabama's age of criminal responsibility is 14. Juvenile court has jurisdiction younger than that, but that's not a criminal proceeding. – cpast May 2 '16 at 0:41
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    @Matt, this was burglary, not robbery. Robbery is theft involving use of or threat of use of force against a person. – mgkrebbs May 2 '16 at 1:00
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    @cpast ALA CODE § 13A-3-23: (a) A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself [...] from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. Are you saying that it would be unreasonable for an 11 year old child to believe that an adult who breaks into their house and threatens to kill them may actually do so? – Matt May 2 '16 at 1:14
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    @Matt When the adult was in the house, yes. When they were running away, no, not reasonable. It doesn't matter if the kid thought they'd come back with a gun; you can't use force to defend yourself from hypothetical future harm, only if you reasonably believe it immediately necessary. – cpast May 2 '16 at 1:20
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    @DaleM I want to ask exactly the question that the OP asked. I don't think you have adequately addressed the entire situation. You provided exactly zero justification for your On the face of it it appears that the 11 year old acted illegally. You didn't cite any law or court rulings that support your claims. I'm just looking for an analysis of the Alabama law that applies here and a specific reason that this does not qualify. It sounds like the answer is what cpast has said. There isn't an immediate need for the use of force. – Matt May 2 '16 at 1:22

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