In 1776 we cast off the shackles of a tyrannical government and forged our own way. Our founding fathers had a vision for a free society and had no need for British rule anymore. But they also recognized where our British overlords got some things right. Specifically, the Castle Doctrine and what it means for you if the safety and security of your home are compromised.
What is the Castle Doctrine?
The Castle Doctrine has its foundations in English Common Law and made its debut in the United States in 1985. Introduced as the “make my day” law, Colorado adopted this to replace “duty to retreat” laws. Since that time, most states throughout the country have some form of Castle Doctrine in place. But what is it?
According to LegalDictionary.net, “When an intruder comes onto a person’s property, or into his home or business, for the purpose of committing a felony, or to cause bodily harm to the inhabitants, how much force that person can use in [self-protection] varies by state. Castle doctrine holds that a person in his home, on his property, or in his place of business may use deadly force to protect himself from violent attack.”
Also, much like the right to self-defense is a feature of the Second Amendment, the right to be secure in your own home is a feature of the Fourth Amendment:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects shall not be violated…”
However, this does not mean that a person is justified in using force or deadly force against any person in their home. The use of self-defense must be considered reasonable. For example, if a confused elderly person accidentally wanders into your home, it wouldn’t be reasonable to use excessive force.
Unfortunately, details of the Castle Doctrine vary from state to state. So, it’s almost impossible to give a one size fits all definition. In simplistic terms, it provides the homeowner the right to defend their home in the event of a violent intrusion. Specifically regarding the use of deadly force.
Because each state varies so much, it’s in your best interest to research the specific details for your state/jurisdiction.
Castle Doctrine vs. Stand Your Ground
The Castle Doctrine is not the same as the Stand Your Ground Law, although they are very similar. Both laws remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. Essentially, the Stand Your Ground Law picks up where the Castle Doctrine leaves off. Where one deals with the home and other property, the other deals with a public place, you are legally allowed to be.
The Castle Doctrine allows you to use force against an intruder in your home, land, or property who has the intent to inflict death or serious bodily injury. For example, the case of a woman in Texas who shot a suspected stalker after he kicked in her door.
In many states, this extends to your vehicle or place of work as well. But this is not the case in all states, so make sure you understand your local laws.
However, Stand Your Ground Laws remove the duty to retreat when threatened with death or bodily harm in public. A good example of this is the legally armed 22-year-old who stopped a mass murder at a mall in Indiana.
Neither Stand Your Ground nor Castle Doctrine laws are a license to kill or get out of jail free card. Both still require reasonable justification for the use of excessive or deadly force.
Like states without Stand Your Ground Laws, states without Castle Doctrine laws require you to retreat if it is safe to do so. In some states, this means you have a duty to flee your home in the case of an invasion. Although some states only require you to retreat to the farthest point in your home before using deadly force.
Applying Common Sense
Like Stand Your Ground, the Castle Doctrine doesn’t mean you have to defend your home at the point of entry. It just means you can. You are free to develop a home defense plan that involves the entire family retreating to a defensible safe point.
In fact, if you are forced to defend your home and your family, keep in mind the legal ramifications. The Castle Doctrine is a sound legal defense, but nothing is absolute. There will still be an investigation and potential trial. And there is always the possibility you will be up against an activist prosecutor and/or judge. Any step you take to avoid a lethal response only looks good for you.
As with anything, the path of least resistance is the ideal choice. The Castle Doctrine is in place in the event you have no option but to use force to defend your home. But your brain is in place to help you recognize and utilize available options. Always apply sound reasoning and logic to any self-defense situation. It may be the difference between legal defense and criminal defense.
Please note: This is not to be considered legal advice and is meant for general entertainment purposes only. All states have different variations of the laws mentioned here and it is up to you to research the laws in your state. For any actual legal advice, please make sure to seek the counsel of a certified attorney.