In torts, we discussed the long-standing debate over the use of potentially lethal force to protect property. The common law has long barred the use of lethal force to solely protect property given the value of a human life. That issue appears at the heart of a first-degree murder case in Memphis where a store clerk followed a teenager out of a store after the teen allegedly stole a beer. The clerk, Anwar Ghazali, 28, shot and killed Dorian Harris, 17.
Common law cases often involve the use of snare guns to protect property since direct use of force often involve claims of self-defense rather than defense of property. In famous cases like Bird v. Holbrook, 4 Bing. 628, 130 Eng. Rep. 911 (1825), courts have ruled that “[n]o man can do indirectly that which he is forbidden to do directly.” Not only are such devices viewed as immoral (because human life is more valuable than property), but dangerous because such devices cannot tell the difference between friend and foe. The case however also has been cited for the long-standing rule that no property is viewed as more valuable than a human life. That does not mean you cannot take steps to protect your property and a case of protection of property can become protection of self (with the right to use higher levels of force) when the suspect resists or attacks.
Ghazali never called police after shooting at the fleeing teen. It turns out that he hit him near the Top Stop Shop. The next day the body was discovered. Ghazali was charged with first-degree murder. In the arrest affidavit, Ghazali is quoted as saying “I think I shot him.”
The police spokesman stated what is often the dividing line between defense of self and defense of property: “We don’t want people to steal from businesses. We also don’t want people hunting suspects down and shooting them. If he’s not giving direct, imminent danger to you, leave it be. Call the cops. Let us figure it out.”
In this case, the alleged shoplifter was fleeing and not a threat to Ghazali. The “shopkeeper’s privilege” recognized in most states include a right to hold an alleged shoplifter where there is a reasonable basis to suspect the person. However, this privilege is only for a reasonable period of time in a reasonable manner. It does not include the right to use lethal force without a claim of reasonable self-defense.