In my original commentary piece on this topic (“The Perils of Pursuit”), I warned about the danger to civilians who chase after someone in the wake of a crime. For one thing, it changes the dynamics of the incident from what was originally self-defense into one of attempting to apprehend a suspect.

In that case, a Texas defendant was charged with Murder and Aggravated Assault after he chased down a couple of teenagers he had witnessed allegedly burglarizing a vehicle in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived. And he was an off-duty police officer. You and I are not cops, and would likely receive even less sympathy from both prosecutors and jurors.

Criminal charges are not the only potential pitfall of such actions; we’ve all seen the nightmare stories of people sued in civil court by felons who were injured in the course of criminal activity. This has happened even when the defendant was found to have been acting within the law, and no charges were filed.

However, if you are unfortunate enough to be convicted in criminal court, it simply increases the probability of facing a lawsuit. The following headline caught my eye:

“Burglar Sues Homeowner Who Shot Him”

http://www.indystar.com/story/news/crime/2016/04/25/burglar-sues-homeowner-who-shot-him/83418638/

But how could this be? The answer is that his was yet another case where someone who was armed simply made a bad decision. A burglar had broken into the garage of Dunkirk (IN) resident David McLaughlin on April 21, 2014. McLaughlin eventually fired several gunshots at the intruder.

One of the bullets hit 31-year-old David Bailey in the left arm. In September 2014, a Jay Superior Court jury found McLaughlin guilty of criminal recklessness in the shooting. Note that prosecutors originally filed Attempted Murder charges, but later reduced them, likely to guarantee an “easy win”—which they got (the jury deliberated for less than an hour).

The problem was that when McLaughlin heard his garage alarm go off, instead of remaining safely inside his house and simply calling the police, he grabbed his handgun and went outside. Bad move—at that point, there was no threat to McLaughlin or anyone else.

Then, as McLaughlin approached the (detached) garage, the suspect apparently saw him and darted out, turning to flee down the alley. The homeowner fired at Bailey, hitting him once, as he was running away. Another bad move. Expecting that any jury will see firing at a retreating suspect as being “self-defense” is naïve at best.

Now, I have no idea whether this lawsuit will proceed or not. A judge with common sense might even dismiss it out of hand. It’s a fundamental principal of common law that crooks shouldn’t benefit financially from their crimes.

But there are a lot of judges (and even more juries) who have no sympathy for people who use deadly force to protect property. Besides, the perpetrator was clearly retreating, so even if there actually had been a threat initially, once the attacker attempted to flee, the right to use deadly force ceased.

So, save the rants about how “unfair” such cases are and instead learn from them. No matter what you may believe “the law says” in your state, using deadly force to protect property is always problematic. And pursuing suspects is even more risky—besides potentially getting shot, you could end up in court twice: criminal and then civil.

Be smart.