A would-be burglar got more than he bargained for last September when he broke into a home shared by several Johns Hopkins University Students. Apparently the students had heard him come into the house and four of them confronted him in the garage, one of whom was somehow armed with a samurai sword. The students, who had contacted authorities, were attempting to hold the burglar in the garage until police arrived when the burglar reportedly lunged at the student who was holding the sword. In a seeming self-defense effort, the student swung the sword at the burglar, severing the burglar’s left hand completely and cutting the man’s upper body. The burglar died from his injuries. Controversy surrounded the case concerning whether or not the student should face criminal charges. As of this writing, he has not been formally charged in connection with the incident.
One important point to be taken from this situation is that it is not wise to break into the homes of ninjas. On a more serious note, this case illustrates how fine the line can be between murder and self-defense. In Tennessee, a person has the right to use a reasonable amount of force against another to prevent the suffering of death or bodily harm. Thus, the factors that would be considered in charging the individual in Tennessee would be whether the burglar could reasonably have been thought to have presented a risk of serious bodily injury or death to the students and whether the use of the sword in self-defense was a reasonable use of force. Considering that the burglar was reportedly lunging at the student holding the sword in what may have been an attempt to obtain control of the weapon, the student may have been justified in using that sword to defend himself from that risk. Whether or not this situation weighs more toward self-defense or homicide charges will ultimately rest with the discretion of the prosecutor.