The Castle Doctrine

A man’s home is his castle. At least that’s how the old saying goes. And when it comes time to defend that “castle” many states afford people the opportunity to use force—even deadly force.

What are known as Castle Doctrine laws were created to allow citizens to protect their property and their personal safety from intruders or people unlawfully intruding upon them. Put simply—the Castle Doctrine allows you to use force on someone who breaks into your home and sometimes, even your vehicle.

The origin of Castle Doctrine laws is old English Common Law. But here in the United States, it isn’t anything like a Constitutional right. Instead, separate states must enact their own Castle Doctrine to protect their citizens.

At this time, there are 31 states with such laws on the books—laws created to empower people to protect their property and their personal safety. Each state’s law varies slightly with unique exceptions and conditions. A local attorney would be able to tell you about the specific details of your state’s law.

When Does the Castle Doctrine of Self Defense Apply?

With regards to your home, some of the following conditions may have to be met before you can use the Castle Doctrine as a defense for use of force:

  1. The intruder must be acting illegally,
  2. The intruder must have forcefully or illegally entered the home,
  3. You must believe the intruder intends to harm or kill you or another occupant,
  4. You mustn’t have provoked the intrusion or the force used by the intruder,
  5. You must reasonably believe the intruder intends to commit a felony, or
  6. You may be required to have made an attempt to flee, also known as the “duty to retreat”.

In all cases, you must be in the home legally and in some manner, the intruder must be there illegally.

While some states have a “duty to retreat” clause, meaning you have to attempt to flee the perceived threat, others state you can “stand your ground” and that you have no such duty to flee in your own home.

Even in some states that don’t have a specific law regarding the Castle Doctrine you can fight a charge resulting from force used in defense of property or persons by arguing you were acting in “self defense”.

It may seem unlikely that an intruder would sue you in civil court for injury incurred during a home invasion or other similar crime. But, under some Castle laws, you are protected in case this happens. The Castle laws, in this case, would apply both criminally and civilly.

Recently, some states have dealt with backlash regarding their Castle laws. Critics are claiming the laws sometimes serve to protect the wrong people. Take for instance the Ohio case where a man stole from a drug dealer and then shot the drug dealer when he attempted to gain entry into his vehicle.

Of the few states that don’t have current Castle Doctrine laws, many have reoccurring conversations about potential legislation nearly every session. Likewise, those that do have existing laws often meet with resistance to change or the expansion of the existing language.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania were disappointed just a few weeks ago when Governor Ed Rendell vetoed their legislation to expand their current Castle Doctrine. The expansion had passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support and sought to do away with the “duty to retreat” clause. The Governor and others, however, opposed the measure stating that prosecutors usually use good sense when choosing who to pursue with criminal charges and who to let be when defending their property and safety.

These are just one example of the overwhelming differences from state to state criminal justice laws and are only one representation of the many potential defense strategies that can be used when facing criminal charges.

Because they vary so widely and are in a constant state of flux, consulting with a local defense lawyer is the one way to be certain of laws in your particular state.

More on the Castle Doctrine.