What is the Castle Doctrine?
By: Kevin Chern
The Castle Doctrine is a controversial self-defense provision that allows for the use of force, including deadly force, within one’s home.
Each state has its own laws regarding if, and to what extent, a homicide is justified when it occurs in one’s own home.
Castle Doctrine Explained
Based on the English Common Law provision that one’s home is one’s “castle”, the Castle Doctrine is a popular yet controversial law that allows for a person whose home is under attack to use force upon the attacker.
As each state has its own Castle laws (just like the 3 strike law), there are a number of limitations and exclusions to the law. Generally speaking, though, the occupant:
- must believe that the intruder intends to do serious harm
- must believe that the intruder intends to commit a felony
- must not have provoked the intruder or threat of harm
- may be protecting himself or any other within the residence
- may need to announce his presence and intention to retaliate
If you’re facing criminal charges for an event that may fall under the Castle doctrine, a local defense attorney can help you understand how this legal theory may apply to your case.
In all cases, the occupant must legally be in the residence, and the intruder must be there illegally. Additionally, Castle laws may extend these rights to a workplace, car, or other residence where the occupant is legally.
In some states, the Castle Doctrine provides complete immunity, including from future civil suits brought forth by the intruder and/or the intruder’s family.
Stand Your Ground vs. Duty to Retreat
States that have adopted the Castle Doctrine have done so in a number of ways.
One of the most prevalent is the Stand Your Ground clause, which states that a homeowner who is under perceived threat of attack has no obligation to try to escape his or her attacker before resorting to deadly force.
On the opposite side is the Duty to Retreat, which states that force should be a last resort, and the homeowner must, within reason, try to escape his attacker before retaliating.
State Passage of the Castle Doctrine
Currently, there are a number of states which have passed laws in favor of some version of the Castle Doctrine, including:
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
Additionally, some states have passed laws that encompass parts of the Castle Doctrine without explicitly calling them such.
Some states have also passed a “weak” version of the Castle Doctrine that keeps the duty to retreat but still allows for the use of deadly force in a home invasion.
Some of these states include:
- New York
A defense attorney may be your best resource in determining if the Castle Doctrine may be a viable defense in your case.
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The above summary of the Castle Doctrine is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information on the Castle Doctrine, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.