Defense of Property in California

Defense of Property in California

July 18, 2013  •  Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

In light of the George Zimmerman trial and verdict, people all over the country have been checking into their state’s self-defense laws.  People are usually checking into what it means to “stand your ground” or when and one how can legally defend themselves.

But what about defending your personal property?  If you catch someone stealing things out of your garage can you chase them down the street and recover it?

self defense laws in californiaBefore we get to the law, let’s talk about safety and common sense. If someone robs you with a weapon or threatens to hurt you unless you turn your wallet or your car, conventional wisdom is to comply and then call the police.  If you catch someone in your home or vehicle taking your property, conventional wisdom is to comply and then call the police.  Don’t EVER do anything that’s going to get you or your loved ones hurt.   Your stuff can be replaced, your life can’t be.

Got it? Good.  OK, so now on to the law.

In California, if someone steals your personal property, you have a right to use reasonable force to protect his property from immediate harm.  I’m not talking about a situation where you catch someone actually unlawfully in your house taking your stuff. In that situation, California Penal Code Section 198.5 presumes that you are in “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household” which will help you greatly should you end up “using force intended or likely to cause death” to defend yourself, your loved ones, or your property IN your home.

But what about property outside of your home? What happens when you see someone riding away from your garage on your bike or walking away from your car with your stereo (OK, it’s hard to steal car stereos in cars these days since they’re really mini-computers built into the car, but you get the idea)

Under the California jury instructions, reasonable force means “”the amount of force that a reasonable person in the same situation would believe is necessary to protect the property.”

So what does that reasonable force mean?  That’s a factual question for the jury to decide.  It’s up to lawyers to argue it.

California case law provides a good example of what can be done and what cannot be done. In a case called People v. Randle, People v. Randle (2005) 35 Cal. 4th 987, the court said it was OK for a burglary victim to pursue the burglar him with his fists in order to recover stolen stereo equipment.  What was NOT OK was the fact that after the stereo equipment was recovered, the victim continued to beat up the guy who stole it.

But again, be sure to use caution.  You don’t want to end up getting hurt.

If you or a loved one are accused of a crime, contact The Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg at 310-210-0744 or via email using this contact form.

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