Defending against burglars; what does AK law allow?

Published: Sep. 19, 2017 at 3:03 PM AKDT
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Grant and Heather Rebne got the scare of their lives early Sunday when three intruders tried to break through their back door at 3:00 a.m.

"It was terrifying to think anyone would come into our house" Heather Rebne said.

The couple was upstairs with their two young children when they heard someone trying to break into their home. "They were slamming on the (back) door. They were ramming into it trying to get it open. Grant Rebne said.

He yelled at the intruders from an upstairs window and they ran off, but the experience left the couple shaken. "If I happened to be up in the middle of the night with the baby, if I'd happened to be standing here, what would have happened? What would they have done?" said Heather.

Grant shared their experience on the Anchorage Scanner Joe Facebook page, which prompted people to ask what Alaska law permits when defending yourself in your home.

'People are allowed to use deadly force to terminate a burglary inside an occupied dwelling. That's Alaska law. That's been Alaska law for almost 40 years now" said Senior Anchorage Assistant District Attorney James Fayette, who cautioned that any use of deadly force will be reviewed by police and prosecutors.

Channel 2 News asked Fayette to respond to possible situations that crime victims might face:

KTUU: Can you shoot through the door to stop someone from breaking into your home?

Fayette: "Let's be thankful that it didn't come to the use of deadly force, but if it had, it seems to me that homeowner would have had a powerful argument that his use of deadly force would have been justified because it was a personal threat to him, and I think most people would agree with that and I think burglars who are watching ought to bear that in mind."

KTUU: Do you have to retreat or try to escape from a burglar?

Fayette: "That question comes up all the time. The answer is no. There is no duty to retreat before you use deadly force to terminate a burglary inside your home."

KTUU: Can you shoot someone who broke into your home, is still inside, but trying to get away?

Fayette: "The short answer is yes, they are still inside your home. It's still a burglary inside an occupied dwelling."

KTUU: Can you shoot at someone who broke into your home, but is fleeing and outside of the home?

Fayette: "There's no short answer to that. It will be reviewed by a prosecutor, it will be reviewed by police detectives and you're relying now on personal self defense and not your right to use deadly force to terminate a burglary because they're outside, they're running away."

KTUU: How about if someone is trying to steal your car?

Fayette: "You can't use deadly force if people are trying to steal your car in your driveway, because that's just property, That's not a burglary."

Fayette also cautioned that you cannot use deadly force if someone is breaking into an unoccupied building, such as a storage shed, and you cannot legally fire at trespassers.

Fayette also warned that the use of deadly force should not be taken lightly. "Go talk to someone who's been in combat and actually had to take life. Go talk to a police officer who's ever had to shoot somebody in a justified shooting, and think about what they're having to carry around for the rest of their life, having taken human life. That's really heavy, and that's what we're talking about here" Fayette said.

The Rebnes are installing new security measures, such as improved improved lighting, to try to scare away any future intruders.