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Home Invasions, Self Defense, and Owning Weapons in Costa Rica

Editor's Note: We wish to thank Michael Carbone, attorney Rafa Valverde, and representatives of the Grecia police for the following information. This overview has also  been edited and augmented by Que Pasa Grecia.

A few very basic points: Costa Rica is a relatively young country, as is its judicial system. Costa Rican laws are not the same as those of United States or Canada. The judicial system here is still evolving and is just now showing signs of beginning to honor and defend the rights of the victim(s) as much as it has, heretofore, honored the rights of the defendant(s). Be aware that you have a responsibility in any defense: your response cannot exceed the threat. If you are deemed to have used excessive force, you are subject to be charged with a crime and could face both fines and imprisonment.

You are cautioned not react to threats in the same way you might in your state or province back home. Appropriate reactions to threats (within the jurisdiction of Costa Rica) in defense of your property and person (the relevant law of "legitimate defense" applies) can be seen below. (These are general guidelines and your specific situation may include criteria that may alter your circumstances and the appropriate response for the situation.):

1. If a person walks onto your property not making threats and/or with no weapons, you are not legally entitled to touch or assault them.
2. If you believe the "trespasser" is being aggressive or they are armed, use of "minimum force" is allowed. Here it has been mentioned that the use of pepper spray, a pellet gun, or even a shotgun loaded with salt shot or other non-lethal protective weapon would be legal as long as your force will not threaten permanent injury to a vital area (i.e. head or heart).
3. If an assailant is armed with a weapon such as a bat, a gun, rifle or a sharp-edged device or knife, any of which are being used in a threatening manner, defensive force (including lethal force) is permitted. However in defense of your person, other persons or property, you are NOT allowed to strike multiple blows or fire multiple shots beyond the effect of immediately negating the threat.
4. Attacks (from the rear) on a retreating assailant are not acceptable or legal.
5. Using an unregistered or illegal weapon is forbidden and also illegal. Legal weapons such as single-shot pepper spray, pellet guns, and we suspect even large knives (machetes) are able to be purchased without a permit or license and are available here in limited locations. Gun or rifle ownership requires an extensive legal process. (See below.)

Requirements to own a gun, shotgun or rifle is a lengthy and convoluted process. The applicant must:
1. be a Costa Rica citizen or Costa Rica Permanent Resident;
2. have a "firma digital," which is an on-line digital signature (available for a fee at some branches of Banco National and Banco Popular);
3. be fingerprinted;
4. take and pass a psychological test(s). (Specialists administer these tests);
5. take and pass practical and theoretical tests administered by the Academe National de Policia;
6. purchase and register a legally permitted weapon;
7. regularly renew the weapon registration, as required.

Your editor's personal recommendations:

1) if at all possible, always try to avoid confrontations with trespassers, burglars, robbers, assailants, etc. Have the local police department number close at hand. Dial it or "911," head for a neighbor's house or find a safe place and wait for police assistance to arrive. (The old adage here, "never bring a knife to a gunfight" should guide your actions);
2) the first responders to your crime will be the local "policia" (police) serving your immediate area;
3) if you have had a break in, robbery or burglary, always file a report. The local police will be on the scene first, take the report, or will help you file it with the O.I.J. or direct you as to how to contact them. Costa Rica's "F.B.I." is the O.I.J. They are ultimately in charge of investigating the crime scene, gathering evidence on the crime and solving the crime.

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