Criminal Law

507. Justifiable Homicide: By Public Officer

The defendant is not guilty of (murder/ [or] manslaughter/ attempted murder/ [or] attempted voluntary manslaughter) if (he/ she) (attempted to kill/killed) someone while (acting as a public officer/obeying a public officer's command for aid and assistance). Such (a/an) [attempted] killing is justified, and therefore not unlawful, if:

1. The defendant was (a public officer/obeying a public officer's command for aid and assistance);

2. The [attempted] killing was committed while (taking back into custody a convicted felon [or felons] who had escaped from prison or confinement[,]/ arresting a person [or persons] charged with a felony who (was/were) resisting arrest or fleeing from justice[,]/ overcoming actual resistance to some legal process[,]/ [or] while performing any [other] legal duty);

3. The [attempted] killing was necessary to accomplish (one of those/that) lawful purpose[s];


4. The defendant had probable cause to believe that <insert name of decedent> posed a threat of serious physical harm, either to the defendant or to others [or that <insert name of decedent> had committed <insert forcible and atrocious crime>]. <See Bench Note discussing this element.>

A person has probable cause to believe that someone poses a threat of serious physical harm when facts known to the person would persuade someone of reasonable caution that the other person is going to cause serious physical harm to another.

[An officer or employee of <insert name of state or local government agency that employs public officer> is a public officer.]

The People have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the [attempted] killing was not justified. If the People have not met this burden, you must find the defendant not guilty of [attempted] (murder/ [or] manslaughter).

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has a sua sponte duty to instruct on justifiable homicide when "it appears that the defendant is relying on such a defense, or if there is substantial evidence supportive of such a defense and the defense is not inconsistent with the defendant's theory of the case." (See People v. Breverman (1998) 19 Cal.4th 142, 156 [77 Cal.Rptr.2d 870, 960 P.2d 1094] [addressing sua sponte duty to instruct on self-defense].)

In element 2, select the phrase appropriate for the facts of the case.

It is unclear whether the officer must always have probable cause to believe that the victim poses a threat of future harm or if it is sufficient if the officer has probable cause to believe that the victim committed a forcible and atrocious crime. In Tennessee v. Garner (1985) 471 U.S. 1, 3, 11 [105 S.Ct. 1694, 85 L.Ed.2d 1], the Supreme Court held that, under the Fourth Amendment, deadly force may not be used to prevent the escape of an apparently unarmed suspected felon unless it is necessary to prevent the escape and the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. "Garner necessarily limits the scope of justification for homicide under section 197, subdivision 4, and other similar statutes from the date of that decision." (People v. Martin (1985) 168 Cal.App.3d 1111, 1124 [214 Cal.Rptr. 873].) In a footnote, Garner, supra, 471 U.S. 1, 16, fn. 15, noted that California law permits a killing in either situation, that is, when the suspect has committed an atrocious crime or when the suspect poses a threat of future harm. (See also Long Beach Police Officers Assn v. City of Long Beach (1976) 61 Cal.App.3d 364, 371-375 [131 Cal.Rptr. 348] [also stating the rule as "either" but quoting police regulations, which require that the officer always believe there is a risk of future harm.]) The committee has provided both options in element 4. The court should review relevant case law before giving the bracketed language.

As with a peace officer, the jury must determine whether the defendant was a public officer. (People v. Brown (1988) 46 Cal.3d 432, 444-445 [250 Cal.Rptr. 604, 758 P.2d 1135].) The court may instruct the jury in the appropriate definition of "public officer" from the statute (e.g., "a Garden

Grove Regular Police Officer and a Garden Grove Reserve Police Officer are public officers"). (Ibid.) However, the court may not instruct the jury that the defendant was a public officer as a matter of law (e.g., "Officer Reed was a public officer"). (Ibid.)

Related Instructions

CALCRIM No. 508, Justifiable Homicide: Citizen Arrest (Non-Peace Officer).

CALCRIM No. 509, Justifiable Homicide: Non-Peace Officer Preserving the Peace.


Justifiable Homicide by Public Officer. Pen. Code, §§ 196, 199.

Burden of Proof. Pen. Code, § 189.5; People v. Frye (1992) 7 Cal.App.4th 1148, 1154-1155 [10 Cal.Rptr.2d 217]; People v. Banks (1976) 67 Cal.App.3d 379, 383-384 [137 Cal.Rptr. 652].

Public Officer. See Pen. Code, §§ 831(a) [custodial officer], 831.4 [sheriff's or police security officer], 831.5 [custodial officer], 831.6 [transportation officer], 3089 [county parole officer]; In re Frederick B. (1987) 192 Cal.App.3d 79, 89-90 [237 Cal.Rptr. 338], disapproved on other grounds in In re Randy G. (2001) 26 Cal.4th 556, 557 fn. 2 [110 Cal.Rptr.2d 516, 28 P.3d 239] ["public officers" is broader category than "peace officers"]; see also Pen. Code, § 836.5(a) [authority to arrest without warrant].

Secondary Sources

1 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Defenses, §§ 82, 85, 243.

3 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 73, Defenses and Justifications, § 73.15[1], [2] (Matthew Bender).

4 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 85, Submission to Jury and Verdict, § 85.04[1][c] (Matthew Bender).

6 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 142, Crimes Against the Person, § 142.01[1][b] (Matthew Bender).

Related Issues

Killing Committed in Obedience to Judgment

A homicide is also justifiable when committed by a public officer "in obedience to any judgment of a competent court." (Pen. Code, § 196, subd. 1.) There are no reported cases construing this subdivision. This provision appears to apply exclusively to lawful executions.

(New January 2006)