Fight or Flight: When Clowning Around Turns Criminal

By: Brooklee Hurst

Nightmares became reality when unsettling reports of clown sightings spread across the nation, with the latest tally showing over thirty states experiencing clown-related incidents. The sightings originated in Greenville County, South Carolina where reports that individuals dressed as clowns were beckoning children into the woods. Soon after this story caught national attention, clown sightings were reported in several other states. Much like the pantomime characters in horror films, many of these clowns are equipped, not with balloon animals, but rather wield deadly weapons and issue physical threats. As a result of the clown hysteria, Target removed a variety of creepy clown masks from their stores and online, possibly in the hopes that their products will not reach the hands of those wishing to unleash clown-like terror on unsuspecting victims. One does not need coulrophobia, a specific fear of clowns, in order to be afraid of the cirque de la terreur that is currently plaguing our nation.

As these frightful events became a common topic of conversation, individuals began hypothesizing how they would respond if they ever came face-to-face with one of these creepy characters. Many threaten to respond with force if a clown-like figure were to cross their paths. However, a look into the law shows that using force may not be justified in certain circumstances.

The proper action to take in self-defense differs from state to state. In some states, citizens have a duty to retreat from an imminent threat of personal harm before using force in self-defense and can only use force as an absolute last resort. Other states, such as Louisiana, differ greatly in their ideals of self-defense by preferring the Castle doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws over the duty to retreat. Stand Your Ground is a form of self-defense law that allows individuals to use deadly force when they believe they are in imminent danger. This legal concept essentially removes the duty to retreat by allowing force, in certain circumstances, in self-defense without first attempting retreat. The Castle doctrine is similar to Stand Your Ground law, but it is limited to real property, which includes one’s home, work, and sometimes automobile.

Louisiana’s Castle laws, which are found under the justifiable homicide statute, La. R.S. 14:20, allow the use of force by one lawfully in a dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle to prevent the unlawful entry thereof or, after an unlawful entry has been committed, to compel the intruder to leave. This legal doctrine supports the notion that a person should feel safe and protected in his own “castle.” Therefore, in Louisiana, if a clown is attempting to unlawfully enter your home, perhaps coming through the shower drain like Pennywise from Stephen King’s It, force is justifiable.

However, claiming the Castle doctrine does not guarantee a justifiable homicide. In 2005, Donald Aaron of Louisiana fatally shot a man standing in his driveway. Aaron believed the man had burglarized his home and shot the man when he reached in his pocket for a beer bottle. Aaron claimed the Castle doctrine as a defense but the jury disagreed and he was charged with negligent homicide. The jury may have reached a different result after the enactment of Louisiana’s Stand Your Ground provisions.

In 2006, Louisiana added Stand Your Ground laws to the already enacted Castle laws. The new provisions added that a person who is in a place where they have a right to be does not have an obligation to retreat if faced with a real or perceived threat and may stand their ground and meet force with force. Also, homicide is justifiable when committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm. Under the new provisions, if a clown advances towards a Louisianan, that citizen has the right, if they reasonably believe that they are in imminent danger, to take action in self-defense. This right is not limited to that person’s dwelling, place of business, or motor vehicle.

Although clown sightings are unsettling and strike fear in our hearts, the use of force is not justifiable in all circumstances. The incentive to rid the community of murderous clowns may be great, but one should think twice before unloading a shotgun on a mere trespassing joker.