After a Ravalli County homeowner fatally shot a man who was breaking into his home on Monday, March 17, questions have arisen over the rights of a Montana citizen to defend life and property. 

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright referenced House Bill 228, passed by the 2009 Montana legislature in a general discussion over those rights, without specifically referencing Monday's incident.

"In Montana, there is a series of statutes that actually goes beyond what is commonly called 'The Castle Doctrine'," Fulbright said. "Really, there's several different parts to it. It's broken down to defense of the person, whether it's yourself or another, you can use deadly force if there's a reasonable belief that that force is necessary to prevent an immediate death or serious bodily harm to yourself or another person, or to prevent the commission of any other forcible felony."

Fulbright said the word "reasonable" is extremely important in this legislation.

"The drafters of this code long ago used the word "reasonable" a lot," Fulbright said. "It really is more about common sense or a reasonable reaction to what is an apparent threat. That's the way the law looks at it."

Ravalli County Attorney Bill Fulbright

House Bill 228 states specifically that the use of firearms for self-defense is recognized by the Montana Constitution, and that the use of justifiable force is allowed to secure the ability of people to protect themselves. In addition, the statute states that a person who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat, or to summon law enforcement prior to using force.

In the case of burglary of personal property, House Bill 228 states that a person is justified in the use of force to the extent that it is necessary to prevent or terminate the other's unlawful entry into, or attack upon an occupied structure.