When someone kills another person, it is considered homicide. However, there are some situations in which the killing is not illegal, which are defined under Oklahoma law as “excusable homicide” or “justifiable homicide.” Charges may still be brought against the defendant if the district attorney believes the killing was criminal. Understanding Oklahoma’s laws surrounding justifiable homicide is important for anyone who may be wrongly facing homicide charges. Read about the exceptions below and then contact our experienced Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney for legal advice on your particular situation.
Oklahoma Legal Definitions of Justifiable Homicide
Oklahoma recognizes three different situations in which homicide is justifiable:
21 OK Stat § 21-731 – Excusable Homicide
Excusable homicide occurs when someone kills another person without meaning to and while engaging in legal behavior. There is no intent behind the killing and the defendant was being cautious at the time of the accident that led to the victim’s death. This situation may arise when a death occurs as part of a car accident, for example.
According to Oklahoma law, excusable homicide also includes when the killing occurs by accident or misfortune during the heat of passion, upon sudden and sufficient provocation or upon sudden combat.
21 OK Stat § 21-732 – Law Enforcement Exception
This statute is used to excuse a killing committed by a law enforcement officer. For the exception to apply, the officer uses lethal force when he or she is acting lawfully, is performing his or her legal duty and is attempting to arrest a suspect or prevent a suspect from fleeing who may greatly harm or kill someone else.
21 OK Stat § 21-733 – Justifiable Homicide
Oklahoma law further recognizes three lawful reasons to kill another person:
- When the defendant was defending himself or herself against murder or violence or the act occurred in a home;
- When the defendant was defending another person from being killed or seriously harmed or when trying to prevent a violent act from being committed against another person; or
- When trying to stop a person who had committed a felony, suppressing a riot or when trying to preserve the peace.
How Justifiable Homicide Is Proven in Court
In a criminal case, the prosecutor has the burden of establishing each element of the crime by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. However, self-defense cases are unique in that the burden of proof sways back and forth between the prosecutor and the defendant. Once self-defense is alleged as a defense, the defendant must show that the degree of force was necessary and in line with the danger he or she faced at the time of the killing. The defendant must be able to show that he or she:
- Reasonably believed he, she or someone else was in imminent danger;
- Reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against the danger; and
- Used only the amount of force that was necessary under the circumstances
Proving self-defense may require the defendant to testify. An experienced Oklahoma City criminal defense lawyer may also be able to use other forms of evidence to support this defense, such as:
- Eyewitness testimony by others who saw the killing
- Surveillance footage that shows the acts leading up to the killing
- Expert testimony regarding the location of injuries on the victim and defendant
- Crime scene photos that support this defense
Why It Is Important to Have an Oklahoma City Criminal Defense Lawyer to Prove Justifiable Homicide
It is important to have a skilled Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney by your side when facing homicide charges. Criminal defense attorneys have relationships with area district attorneys and may be able to convince them to drop the charges if the evidence is clear that the killing was justified. He or she can help gather evidence and examine witnesses that supports a self-defense legal strategy. Criminal defense attorneys can assess whether it is preferable for you to testify in your own defense. If you will be testifying, he or she can also help you prepare for this testimony. Contact our skilled Oklahoma City criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and learn about which defenses may apply in your case.