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?