What is Defense of Property?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A defense of property is a legal defense to assault charges where the accused argues that a threat or assault took place in the context of preventing damage to personal or real property. Many nations consider the use of reasonable force acceptable when people are defending their property, and this defense can often be used successfully in court. There are some important caveats to be aware of, and it is important to make sure the law is followed when taking forceful action to protect property.

A security guard wears a uniform clearly demonstrating he is charged with defending property on behalf of someone else.
A security guard wears a uniform clearly demonstrating he is charged with defending property on behalf of someone else.

Generally, in order for defense of property to be accepted, the defendant must show that warning was provided to the accuser before any action was taken. The warning should be clear and must include a note that force will be taken if necessary, along with a stated declaration that a person is defending property he owns or has been hired to protect. A security guard, for example, wears a uniform clearly demonstrating she is charged with defending property on behalf of someone else.

If the warning is not heeded within a reasonable time period, a person can take reasonable force to remove the property from danger. Generally, lethal force is not considered acceptable unless people feel personally threatened. Thus, an unarmed trespasser can be firmly escorted off private property but cannot be shot or struck with a weapon, while a robber with a gun can be shot in self defense if people can argue they sensed a real and present danger, such as the robber waving the gun and threatening to shoot.

When faced with this defense, people can try to argue that warning was not provided or it was unclear, or say they were not given enough time to respond to the warning. In a defense of property, some allowance must be made to give people a chance to comply with orders. People may also argue that while the defense was justified, the level of force used was not. Since property rights are often very highly valued, this is often more successful than trying to claim the warning was not sufficient to meet the legal standard.

People should be familiar with how defense of property laws work in their region so they can follow the law when protecting homes, businesses, and personal property. Generally, as long as a clear warning is provided and people use reasonable force, meeting the threat presented by the trespasser with equal force, they will be within the law in regards to defense of property.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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