Stand Your Ground / Self-Defense Laws in Missouri

Missouri is a state with excellent self-defense laws on the books, including what is probably the premier version of stand-your-ground laws in the nation.

Missouri provisionally allows citizens to use lethal force in order to protect themselves, or protect someone else against the threat of death or great bodily harm, and additionally they may use lethal force to stop the commission of several forcible felonies, such as rape, burglary, home invasion, robbery, child molestation, and more.

flag of Missouri

Anytime the use of lethal force in defense is justifiable, citizens have no duty to retreat under the circumstances.

However, there are several conditions that qualify the justifiable use of any force including lethal force in self-defense. You will definitely need to know what these are so you do not paint yourself into a corner legally when dealing with the aftermath of a defensive encounter.

Luckily, we have distilled all these factors into several easy-to-understand points, which we will share with you below along with the specific state statutes that you should read in their entirety to better understand the law.

What You Need to Know

  • Missouri justifies the use of lethal force on defense in response to the threat of great bodily harm or death against the defender or a 3rd party.
  • Missouri also justifies the use of lethal force to halt or prevent the commission of various forcible felonies. See below.
  • The use of lethal force is not justified in response to verbal provocation alone or if the defender provoked the other party’s unlawful force, barring they have not already made a good-faith effort to withdraw and communicated the same to the other party.

General Provisions

In general, Missouri allows the use of force in self-defense if the would-be victim believes is necessary to prevent or halt the use of unlawful force against them or someone else.

For lethal force specifically, the person employing it for self-defense must reasonably believe that they or someone else are in danger of death or great bodily injury if they do not use lethal force. Said another way, lethal force may only be used in defense to counter a lethal threat.

Additionally, it may also be used to prevent forcible felonies, categorized under Missouri law as burglary, arson of an occupied structure, kidnapping, manslaughter, murder, sexual conduct with a minor or child molestation, sexual assault, and aggravated assault and robbery.

Missouri also justifies the use of lethal force if it is necessary to prevent or terminate the commission of criminal trespass on an occupied premises, be it mobile or immobile, but this may only be done if it meets the rest of the criteria above.

In short, if someone is attempting to forcibly enter your occupied property for any reason, it can likely be construed as a home invasion, and would warrant a lethal force response.

If you see someone breaking into your home that you know is unoccupied or merely see them prowling around the exterior, a lethal force response would likely not be justified.

Notably, Missouri specifies no duty to retreat before even threatening the use of deadly force in self-defense so long as it is justified under the state statutes part of the above discussion and the statutes below.

This is the essence of what the stand-your-ground laws are all about, as forcing a citizen to attempt retreat when there is so often no time or opportunity to do so will only lead to more good guys and good guys getting hurt or killed in a vain attempt to placate the state swims on the matter.

Most encounters go very badly once one side or the other attempts to break and run while the fight is still on. Stand-your-ground laws are intended to prevent this unhappy occurrence from being foisted upon civilians who are already at a terrible disadvantage compared to their attackers.

Restrictions

There are a few notable restrictions on Missouri’s justification for lethal force in self-defense. Namely, lethal force may never be used as a response to any verbal provocation alone.

Someone can call you anything but your name and insult the living daylights out of you, but that does not warrant lethal intervention.

Additionally, lethal force may not be used by a defender if the defender first provoked the other person’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.

There is one notable exception, that the defender who provoked the attack first makes a good faith effort to withdraw from the encounter, and clearly communicates their intention to do so to the other party before being prevented.

Only at that point (under these circumstances) will lethal force once again it be justified in self-defense.

Assessment

Missouri is a strongly pro-second amendment and pro-defense state, and one can easily verify this by a quick reading of the state statutes on the same.

So long as a person is anywhere they have a lawful right to be and are facing the threat of death or great bodily injury they may employ lethal force in defense of themselves or someone else.

Additionally, lethal force may be used to prevent or halt the commission of a variety of forcible felonies, burglary, rape and child molestation among them.

So long as you are not the person who initially provoked the encounter you have no obligation to attempt retreat in Missouri, wherever you happen to be.

Relevant Missouri Use of Force Statutes

563.011. Chapter definitions.

As used in this chapter the following terms shall mean:

(2) “Deadly force”, physical force which the actor uses with the purpose of causing or which he or she knows to create a substantial risk of causing death or serious physical injury;

(3) “Dwelling”, any building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance of any kind, whether the building, inhabitable structure, or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed to be occupied by people lodging therein at night;

(4) “Forcible felony”, any felony involving the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual, including but not limited to murder, robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping, assault, and any forcible sexual offense;

(5) “Premises”, includes any building, inhabitable structure and any real property;

(6) “Private person”, any person other than a law enforcement officer;

(7) “Private property”, any real property in this state that is privately owned or leased;

(…)

(9) “Residence”, a dwelling in which a person resides either temporarily or permanently or is visiting as an invited guest;

(…)

(11) “Unlawfully enter”, a person unlawfully enters in or upon premises or private property when he or she enters such premises or private property and is not licensed or privileged to do so. A person who, regardless of his or her purpose, enters in or upon private property or premises that are at the time open to the public does so with license unless he or she defies a lawful order not to enter, personally communicated to him or her by the owner of such premises or by another authorized person. A license to enter in a building that is only partly open to the public is not a license to enter in that part of the building that is not open to the public.

563.026. Justification generally.

1. Unless inconsistent with other provisions of this chapter defining justifiable use of physical force, or with some other provision of law, conduct which would otherwise constitute any offense other than a class A felony or murder is justifiable and not criminal when it is necessary as an emergency measure to avoid an imminent public or private injury which is about to occur by reason of a situation occasioned or developed through no fault of the actor, and which is of such gravity that, according to ordinary standards of intelligence and morality, the desirability of avoiding the injury outweighs the desirability of avoiding the injury sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense charged.

2. The necessity and justifiability of conduct under subsection 1 of this section may not rest upon considerations pertaining only to the morality and advisability of the statute, either in its general application or with respect to its application to a particular class of cases arising thereunder. Whenever evidence relating to the defense of justification under this section is offered, the court shall rule as a matter of law whether the claimed facts and circumstances would, if established, constitute a justification.

3. The defense of justification under this section is an affirmative defense.

563.031. Use of force in defense of persons.

1. A person may, subject to the provisions of subsection 2 of this section, use physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such force to be necessary to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful force by such other person, unless:

(1) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case his or her use of force is nevertheless justifiable provided:

(a) He or she has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened use of unlawful force; or

(b) He or she is a law enforcement officer and as such is an aggressor pursuant to section 563.046; or

(c) The aggressor is justified under some other provision of this chapter or other provision of law;

(2) Under the circumstances as the actor reasonably believes them to be, the person whom he or she seeks to protect would not be justified in using such protective force;

(3) The actor was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a forcible felony.

2. A person shall not use deadly force upon another person under the circumstances specified in subsection 1 of this section unless:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to protect himself, or herself or her unborn child, or another against death, serious physical injury, or any forcible felony;

(2) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle lawfully occupied by such person; or

(3) Such force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter private property that is owned or leased by an individual, or is occupied by an individual who has been given specific authority by the property owner to occupy the property, claiming a justification of using protective force under this section.

3. A person does not have a duty to retreat:

(1) From a dwelling, residence, or vehicle where the person is not unlawfully entering or unlawfully remaining;

(2) From private property that is owned or leased by such individual; or

(3) If the person is in any other location such person has the right to be.

The justification afforded by this section extends to the use of physical restraint as protective force provided that the actor takes all reasonable measures to terminate the restraint as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

4. The defendant shall have the burden of injecting the issue of justification under this section. If a defendant asserts that his or her use of force is described under subdivision (2) of subsection 2 of this section, the burden shall then be on the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not reasonably believe that the use of such force was necessary to defend against what he or she reasonably believed was the use or imminent use of unlawful force.

563.041. Use of physical force in defense of property.

1. A person may, subject to the limitations of subsection 2, use physical force upon another person when and to the extent that he or she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent what he or she reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission by such person of stealing, property damage or tampering in any degree.

2. A person may use deadly force under circumstances described in subsection 1 only when such use of deadly force is authorized under other sections of this chapter.

3. The justification afforded by this section extends to the use of physical restraint as protective force provided that the actor takes all reasonable measures to terminate the restraint as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

(…)

563.074. Justification as an absolute defense, when.

1. Notwithstanding the provisions of section 563.016, a person who uses force as described in sections 563.031, 563.041, 563.046, 563.051, 563.056, and 563.061 is justified in using such force and such fact shall be an absolute defense to criminal prosecution or civil liability.

2. The court shall award attorney’s fees, court costs, and all reasonable expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant has an absolute defense as provided in subsection 1 of this section.

1 thought on “Stand Your Ground / Self-Defense Laws in Missouri”

  1. Missouri law does not authorize the use of deadly force to prevent or terminate a criminal tresspass or to protect property of any kind. Missouri laws authorizes the use of force in defense of persons in accordance with RSMo 563.031(1), and if such use of force in defense of persons is authorized by that statute and the aggressor is also committing a criminal trespass, then deadly force is not prohibited.

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