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What California Law Says Is Legal When It Comes To Defending Oneself During A Burglary

STUDIO CITY ( — Three cases in which homeowners have shot suspected intruders in the past two days have raised the question: Under California law, what rights do homeowners have when it comes to defending oneself?

"Residential burglary is viewed as an inherently dangerous crime because so much could go so wrong so quickly," said CBS2/KCAL9 Legal Analyst Steve Meister.

Meister says the law tends to fall on the side of the homeowner, even if the suspect is outside of the home.

"The myth is that if you shoot someone outside your house, you drag them back in so that you are protected by the law," said Meister.

He added: "If you're the homeowner, inside your home, the person is no longer there. But if he's fleeing, he turns around and suddenly reaches for his waistband and you believe your life is in danger, again, you don't have to sit there and wait to see what's going to happen next."

That's what investigators say happened in San Gabriel Tuesday, where two people suspected of breaking into the home of an off-duty LAPD lieutenant were fired on as they were leaving. The homeowner said as they were leaving, one turned back and reached for his waistband, authorities said.

Hours earlier in Ontario, police said a homeowner shot a man he says broke into his home and was in his daughter's bedroom when they slept.

A third incident occurred on Wednesday in Apple Valley where off-duty Fontana police officer killed the man he said broke into his home, according to authorities.

But Meister says the same rules apply to both officers and other homeowners alike.

"The words, 'he reached for his waistband,' 'I felt an imminent danger to my life,' 'he made a furtive movement.' Those are cop words. Those are things that police officers are experienced in saying. Just because they know the words, it doesn't mean that the person here is necessarily making them up," he said.

But the threat has to be there once the suspects are fleeing.

"You shoot them dead as they are crossing the lawn? That might not be a justifiable shooting, but where that person is still acting in a way that is an active threat to you, you have a right to act," Meister said.

There have been cases where intruders claim the negligent use of a firearm. One such case was where a Bay Area man was sued by an intruder he shot. Just last week, however, a judge in that case sided with the homeowner.

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