When is it legal to shoot to kill?

PORTLAND, Ore. - The law is pretty clear: Few crimes justify using deadly force.

There have been recent cases of homeowners using deadly force on intruders. One man was exonerated, but the other was convicted because he crossed the line.

In October 2009 the owner of a Lewis County, Wash. house came face to face with a man on his stairs. The owner opened fire, killing the intruder. Sheriff Steve Mansfield said it was justified.

"He asked the intruder to stop his advance. He did not," Mansfield said. "After the second time, he chose to use deadly force."

Ron Louie was a former Hillsboro police chief and now teaches criminal justice courses at Portland Community College.

"The courts always hold your home is your castle," he said. "You fear for your life or the life of your family or others - that's what you have to articulate."

But you can still get into trouble using force inside your home.

Several years ago Keith Cramer of Sutherlin, Ore. began serving a year and half prison sentence after he shot and killed a stranger sleeping on his couch.

He wasn't justified because the intruder wasn't an immediate threat.

And outside your home the use of force is even harder to justify.

If you wanted to use a gun out on the street and you didn't want to get into trouble, someone would have to be attacking you, or you would have to be protecting others who were being attacked and you feared for their life.

Roger Witter ran into trouble with the law when he tried to stop two men who robbed a Gresham AT&T store by firing two shots into their car.

The thieves weren't wounded.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Witter only when he testified against the robbers.

On Tuesday morning police arrested 27-year-old Sean H. Doucette and charged him with second-degree murder. According to court documents, witnesses told police that 19-year-old Iosif Dumitrash was walking away from a fight with Doucette when Doucette shot him several times, killing him.

Doucette's attorney said his client came home from work and saw Dumitrash breaking into his car.

The attorney said Doucette shot Dumitrash in self-defense when the two got into a physical fight.

If the case goes to trial, jurors will have to answer the question whether they believe Doucette reasonably feared for his life.

Police officers have more protection under the law when using deadly force because they are not allowed to retreat from a crime.

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