In this section “unlawful" means either tortious or expressly prohibited by criminal law or both.
Judicial Council Note, 1988: Sub. (3) is amended by conforming references to the statute titles as affected by this bill. [Bill 191-S]
When a defendant testified that the defendant did not intend to shoot or use force, the defendant could not claim self-defense. Cleghorn v. State, 55 Wis. 2d 466
, 198 N.W.2d 577
Sub. (2) (b) is inapplicable to a defendant if the nature of the initial provocation is a gun-in-hand confrontation of an intended victim by a self-identified robber. Under these circumstances the intended victim is justified in the use of force in the exercise of the right of self-defense. Ruff v. State, 65 Wis. 2d 713
, 223 N.W.2d 446
Whether a defendant's belief was reasonable under subs. (1) and (4) depends, in part, upon the parties' personal characteristics and histories and whether events were continuous. State v. Jones, 147 Wis. 2d 806
, 434 N.W.2d 380
Evidence of prior specific instances of violence that were known to the accused may be presented to support a defense of self-defense. The evidence is not limited to the accused's own testimony, but the evidence may not be extended to the point that it is being offered to prove that the victim acted in conformity with the victim's violent tendencies. State v. Daniels, 160 Wis. 2d 85
, 465 N.W.2d 633
Imperfect self-defense contains an initial threshold element requiring a reasonable belief that the defendant was terminating an unlawful interference with the defendant's person. State v. Camacho, 176 Wis. 2d 860
, 501 N.W.2d 380
The reasonableness of a person's belief under sub. (1) is judged from the position of a person of ordinary intelligence and prudence in the same situation as the defendant, not a person identical to the defendant placed in the same situation as the defendant. A defendant's psycho-social history showing past violence toward the defendant is generally not relevant to this objective standard, although it may be relevant, as in spousal abuse cases, when the actors are the homicide victim and defendant. State v. Hampton, 207 Wis. 2d 369
, 558 N.W.2d 884
(Ct. App. 1996).
The right to resist unlawful arrest is not part of the statutory right to self-defense. It is a common law privilege that is abrogated. State v. Hobson, 218 Wis. 2d 350
, 577 N.W.2d 825
While there is no statutory duty to retreat, whether the opportunity to retreat was available goes to whether the defendant reasonably believed the force used was necessary to prevent an interference with the defendant's person. A jury instruction to that effect was proper. State v. Wenger, 225 Wis. 2d 495
, 593 N.W.2d 467
(Ct. App. 1999), 98-1739
When a defendant fails to establish a factual basis to raise self-defense, prior specific acts of violence by the victim have no probative value. The presentation of subjective testimony by an accused, going to a belief that taking steps in self-defense was necessary, is not sufficient for the admission of self-defense evidence. State v. Head, 2000 WI App 275
, 240 Wis. 2d 162
, 622 N.W.2d 9
A defendant asserting perfect self-defense against a charge of first-degree murder must meet an objective threshold showing that the defendant reasonably believed that the defendant was preventing or terminating an unlawful interference with the defendant's person and that the force used was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. A defendant asserting the defense of unnecessary defensive force s. 940.01 (2) (b) to a charge of first-degree murder is not required to satisfy the objective threshold showing. State v. Head, 2002 WI 99
, 255 Wis. 2d 194
, 648 N.W.2d 413
Although intentionally pointing a firearm at another constitutes a violation of s. 941.20, under sub. (1) a person is privileged to point a gun at another person in self-defense if the person reasonably believes that the threat of force is necessary to prevent or terminate what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference. State v. Watkins, 2002 WI 101
, 255 Wis. 2d 265
, 647 N.W.2d 244
When a defendant successfully makes self-defense an issue, the jury must be instructed as to the state's burden of proof regarding the nature of the crime, even if the defense is a negative defense. Wisconsin JI-Criminal 801 informs the jury that it “should consider the evidence relating to self-defense in deciding whether the defendant's conduct created an unreasonable risk to another. If the defendant was acting lawfully in self-defense, [his] conduct did not create an unreasonable risk to another." This instruction implies that the defendant must satisfy the jury that the defendant was acting in self-defense and removes the burden of proof from the state to show that the defendant was engaged in criminally reckless conduct. State v. Austin, 2013 WI App 96
, 349 Wis. 2d 744
, 836 N.W.2d 833
When the circuit court instructed the jury to “consider the evidence relating to ... defense of others, in deciding whether defendant's conduct created an unreasonable risk.... If the defendant was acting lawfully in defense of others, his conduct did not create an unreasonable risk to another," the instruction on the state's burden of proof on defendant's defense of others defense was wholly omitted and the instructions were erroneous. State v. Austin, 2013 WI App 96
, 349 Wis. 2d 744
, 836 N.W.2d 833
Sub. (1m) does not justify continued use of deadly force against an intruder when that intruder is no longer in the actor's dwelling. The applicable definition of the actor's dwelling, s. 895.07 (1) (h), requires that the part of the lot or site in question be “devoted to residential use." While s. 895.07 (1) (h) lists several parts of a residential lot that are part of a “dwelling," it does not include a parking lot. The common denominator of the listed parts of dwellings is that all are property over which the actor has exclusive control. An apartment building parking lot is not exclusive to one tenant or devoted to the residential use of any one tenant. State v. Chew, 2014 WI App 116
, 358 Wis. 2d 368
, 856 N.W.2d 541
Wisconsin law establishes a low bar that the accused must surmount to be entitled to a jury instruction on the privilege of self-defense. The accused need produce only “some evidence" in support of the privilege of self-defense. State v. Stietz, 2017 WI 58
, 369 Wis. 2d 222
, 880 N.W.2d 182
The jury instruction for self-defense in this case was not erroneous. The circuit court gave the jury a general instruction on the state's burden to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because self-defense is a negative defense, the state disproves self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt if the state proves the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, specifically criminal negligence. Therefore, the jury was aware that the state had to prove criminal negligence—the element that self-defense would negate—beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Langlois, 2018 WI 73
, 382 Wis. 2d 414
, 913 N.W.2d 812
The privilege of perfect self-defense may exist in the factual context of a trespasser who kills a homeowner to thwart an attack by the homeowner. If a trespasser “reasonably believed" that a homeowner was “unlawfully interfering" with the trespasser's person and that the homeowner's purpose in attacking the trespasser was not because the homeowner viewed it as necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself but rather because he wanted to prevent the trespasser from reporting criminal activity, then the castle doctrine under sub. (1m), which would otherwise be presumed to make the homeowner's conduct lawful, would not preclude the trespasser from invoking perfect self-defense. State v. Johnson, 2020 WI App 50
, 393 Wis. 2d 688
, 948 N.W.2d 377
The law of self-defense, sub. (1), allows a defendant to threaten or intentionally use force against another if: 1) the defendant believes that there is an actual or imminent unlawful interference with the defendant's person; 2) the defendant believes that the amount of force the defendant uses or threatens to use is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference; and 3) the defendant's beliefs are reasonable. In this case, with no testimony that the defendant's use of force was intentional and necessary, there was no reasonable view of the evidence that would have entitled the defendant to a self-defense instruction. State v. Ruffin, 2022 WI 34
, 401 Wis. 2d 619
, 974 N.W.2d 432
A person may employ deadly force against another, if the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to protect a third-person or one's self from imminent death or great bodily harm, without incurring civil liability for injury to the other. Clark v. Ziedonis, 513 F.2d 79
Evidence—Self-Defense—Prior Acts of the Victim. Paulson. 1974 WLR 266.
State v. Camacho: The Judicial Creation of an Objective Element to Wisconsin's Law of Imperfect Self-Defense Homicide. Lieser. 1995 WLR 741.
Home Safe Home: Wisconsin's Castle Doctrine and Trespasser Liability Laws. Hinkston. Wis. Law. June 2013.
Defense of property and protection against retail theft. 939.49(1)(1)
A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with the person's property. Only such degree of force or threat thereof may intentionally be used as the actor reasonably believes is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference. It is not reasonable to intentionally use force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm for the sole purpose of defense of one's property.
A person is privileged to defend a 3rd person's property from real or apparent unlawful interference by another under the same conditions and by the same means as those under and by which the person is privileged to defend his or her own property from real or apparent unlawful interference, provided that the person reasonably believes that the facts are such as would give the 3rd person the privilege to defend his or her own property, that his or her intervention is necessary for the protection of the 3rd person's property, and that the 3rd person whose property the person is protecting is a member of his or her immediate family or household or a person whose property the person has a legal duty to protect, or is a merchant and the actor is the merchant's employee or agent. An official or adult employee or agent of a library is privileged to defend the property of the library in the manner specified in this subsection.
In this section “unlawful" means either tortious or expressly prohibited by criminal law or both.
Sub. (1) is a defense to criminal liability. It is irrelevant to the issue of whether the emergency doctrine can apply in a civil action to excuse a party's contributory negligence. Kelly v. Berg, 2015 WI App 69
, 365 Wis. 2d 83
, 870 N.W.2d 481
Flight on the part of one suspected of a felony does not, of itself, warrant the use of deadly force by an arresting officer, and it is only in certain aggravated circumstances that a police officer may shoot a fleeing suspect. Clark v. Ziedonis, 368 F. Supp. 544
Classification of felonies. 939.50(1)(1)
Felonies in the statutes are classified as follows:
A felony is a Class A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, or I felony when it is so specified in the statutes.
Penalties for felonies are as follows:
For a Class B felony, imprisonment not to exceed 60 years.
For a Class C felony, a fine not to exceed $100,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 40 years, or both.
For a Class D felony, a fine not to exceed $100,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 25 years, or both.
For a Class E felony, a fine not to exceed $50,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 15 years, or both.
For a Class F felony, a fine not to exceed $25,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 12 years and 6 months, or both.
For a Class G felony, a fine not to exceed $25,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 10 years, or both.
For a Class H felony, a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 6 years, or both.
For a Class I felony, a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 3 years and 6 months, or both.
Classification of misdemeanors. 939.51(2)
A misdemeanor is a Class A, B or C misdemeanor when it is so specified in chs. 939
Penalties for misdemeanors are as follows:
For a Class A misdemeanor, a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 9 months, or both.
For a Class B misdemeanor, a fine not to exceed $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, or both.
For a Class C misdemeanor, a fine not to exceed $500 or imprisonment not to exceed 30 days, or both.
Classification of forfeitures. 939.52(2)
A forfeiture is a Class A, B, C, D or E forfeiture when it is so specified in chs. 939
Penalties for forfeitures are as follows:
For a Class A forfeiture, a forfeiture not to exceed $10,000.
For a Class B forfeiture, a forfeiture not to exceed $1,000.
For a Class C forfeiture, a forfeiture not to exceed $500.
For a Class D forfeiture, a forfeiture not to exceed $200.
For a Class E forfeiture, a forfeiture not to exceed $25.
Felony and misdemeanor defined.
A crime punishable by imprisonment in the Wisconsin state prisons is a felony. Every other crime is a misdemeanor.
History: 1977 c. 418
s. 924 (18) (e)
When a statutory offense does not specify a place of confinement, a sentence of one year may be to either the county jail or the state prisons. All crimes punishable by imprisonment in the state prisons are classified as felonies. State ex rel. McDonald v. Circuit Court for Douglas County, 100 Wis. 2d 569
, 302 N.W.2d 462
Penalty when none expressed. 939.61(1)(1)
If a person is convicted of an act or omission prohibited by statute and for which no penalty is expressed, the person shall be subject to a forfeiture not to exceed $200.