We've all found ourselves driving that bumpy dirt road in the mountains of Montana when we come across a sign that reads: "We don't call 911. Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again." Many Montanans have flippantly joked about this for decades. These days, as we watch the media scroll across our TV's and the Facebook posts fill our minds, these jokes don't seem too far off. Many people are wondering when they can legally protect themselves in the event of a threat of harm. Montana has several laws regarding "self-defense" or "justifiable use of force" and hopefully this post will provide you with some guidance on what the law allows.
I'm Being Attacked in Public: A person is justified in using force against another person when the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary for self-defense against an imminent use of unlawful force. In other words, if you believe you are going to be assaulted or hurt, you have a right to defend yourself using reasonable force. A person can only use force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm if the person believes that force is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm. In other words, don't bring a gun to a fist fight. But if you believe your life is in danger or you are at risk of serious bodily harm, you have the right to protect yourself using the same force.
(Montana Code Annotated 45-3-102)
I'm Being Attacked at Home: A person can use force against someone else when the person reasonably believes that the use of force is necessary to prevent another person's unlawful entry into an occupied structure. A person can only use force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm if the other person enters the structure and the force is necessary to prevent assault OR if force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. In other words, if someone is going to break into your home while you are there, and threatens to harm you or your family, you have the right to protect yourself using reasonable force.
(Montana Code Annotated 45-3-103)
Do I Have to Flee?: Montana law does NOT require a person being threatened to retreat, flee, or call the cops prior to using force. This is sometimes known as the "stand your ground" law. In other words, if someone is threatening your safety or your life, you have a right to defend yourself without first calling the police or running away.
(Montana Code Annotated 45-3-110)
So, what can you do to protect yourself from legal troubles in the event you have to use self-defense?
I recently read an article that said kids (ages 8-18) spend an average of more than 7 hours a day looking at screens. Although the statistics aren't out yet, I would guess that amount has increased significantly with COVID-19 lockdowns. One of the things that comes to mind when I think of kids on a screen is the use of social media.
Sure, as parents we all know there are "risks" to using social media. We've seen the news articles where the young girl was contacted by the old man. We've heard stories about the "creepy" things that can happen with kids on social media.
But something that maybe only lawyer-Moms think about are the legal problems for our kids that can come from social media use.
First, let me just get something out of the way. Snapchat: it doesn't disappear. That is a ginormous lie that we have all been led to believe. Just like anything else on the internet, it's forever. Just because you aren't able to see the snap anymore, doesn't mean it hasn't stored somewhere for others to access (ie. law enforcement). If you're going to let your kid use Snapchat, have this conversation with them. If you know me personally, I'll prove it to them if they don't believe you. Snapchat is forever.
Second, let's talk about online bullying. Sure, we hear about bullying a lot these days. We've all been to the orientation where the school basically tells you that if your kid is bullying, they will be ousted. But something that is rarely discussed is online bullying, also known as cyber bullying. Cyber bullying could get your kid in some major trouble legally. Montana Code Annotated 45-5-221 covers Harassment, and Montana Code Annotated 45-8-213 covers Privacy in Communications. These laws could be used to charge your kid criminally if their bullying fits into the law. If you’re worried about what the school will do with bullies, imagine your kid getting charged criminally for their online talk. Also important to note, there have been cases where kids are criminally charged for encouragement of suicide via text or social media. The consequences are real, and parents should be aware.
Third, let's talk about sex. Remember the days when a boy might ask a girl at a high school bonfire to "flash" him? Yeah...those days are long gone. If that's all your kid is exposed to, you're doing great. You may already know all about the sexting that goes on with kids. If you don't think it's happening in your kid's school, think again. And sure, maybe some of it is harmless. But understand: asking for, sending, or receiving nude pictures of kids can get your kid in real trouble. Montana Code Annotated 45-5-625 covers this issue, and most of the time, kids (and parents) have no idea this is a crime. Not only does this expose your kid to a serious criminal charge, the charge is generally considered a "sex offense."
So, what can we do as parents to protect our kids from legal trouble with their phones, iPads, or social media? While I would love to tell you to keep it simple and prohibit all access to anything with access to the internet, we all know that is next to impossible (especially if you are partaking in "distance-learning"). Here are some tips that I hope you will be able to use and share with your kids:
I hope this is helpful to parents navigating the online world with kids, especially when they are faced with more screen time than ever. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact our office.
The question thousands of Americans are asking themselves during this current pandemic: "Should I be considering creating a Will?" This is a question I have been asked more than a few times over the last several weeks. If there is one good thing that has come out of the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it is that we are all thinking a little bit deeper about our priorities.
The short answer is a resounding: YES, you should create your Will. But that answer has not changed because of COVID-19. Everyone should have a Will, pandemic or not. Here are some of the most common questions I receive regarding creating a Will, and my thoughts on those questions:
SHOULD I USE AN ONLINE TEMPLATE? Unlike most lawyers, I generally encourage people to research on their own if possible and manage their own affairs when possible. Knowledge is power. However, when it comes to a Will, online templates may not be the answer. Every state has different requirements for a Will to be valid under the Law, and if the Will ends up not being valid, you may be better off without one. If you do decide to use an online template, I would encourage you to seek out an attorney's advice on the laws in your State and whether changes need to be made to ensure that the Will is valid.
BUT AREN'T WILLS EXPENSIVE? A Will does not have to be a complex document requiring many hours of legal billing. The majority of the Wills that I assist with are simple, to the point, and complete. A simple Will is a document that is valid under the laws in your State, and simply states your wishes. Most of the Wills I help create are not nearly as expensive as you might think, and generally my clients are pleased with the total bill. I would encourage you to reach out to a couple attorneys to see if the price range is something that might fit your budget.
HOW WILL I EVEN GET A WILL DONE WITH BUSINESSES SHUT DOWN AND SOCIAL DISTANCING? My office has been working on Wills all throughout the pandemic, by utilizing the wonderful technologies we have. Most attorneys will do a video call or phone call during this time if you prefer to get started sooner rather than later. Upon finalizing the Will, some states now allow e-notary (Montana is one of these states) and that tool may be a great way to get the Will finalized.
I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING WORTH VALUE, SO WHY DO I NEED A WILL? Many people have asked me why they would need a Will, when they don't feel they have anything. Distributing your assets is only one of the reasons you should have a Will. Another big reason you might need a Will is to express your wishes regarding the care of your minor children. Some people feel strongly about creating a Will so their wishes regarding a funeral or burial can be expressed. If you own a business, you may need a Will to express your wishes on the future of that business. These are all great reasons, but one of the most important reasons is to avoid your estate going through lengthy probate processes. Your loved ones will be much better off if you have left them with a legal Will, and it will be one less stress for your loved ones at the time of your death.
I understand that writing a Will can be a daunting and scary task. I am an attorney, and yet I put off writing my Will for many years even after I had the ability to create the document myself. Now that I have practiced for 13+ years, I see how foolish that was. I have watched and read about many families and friends who have been through the ringer attempting to deal with the death of a loved one, only for it to be complicated by a probate process. While a pandemic is a great time to think about our future plans, anytime is a great time to create a Will.