If you possess a concealed carry permit in the US, then you are probably familiar with the Castle Doctrine by now – also referred to as the Castle Law or Defense of Habitation Law.
Castle Doctrine Definition
The Castle Doctrine is a law that provides protection or immunity to your home, car, or workplace in some states, allowing you to attack an intruder without being prosecuted in some circumstances.
The Castle Doctrine signifies that deadly force is justifiable if you fear death or serious injury to yourself or others. Although the Castle Doctrine is often referred to as a law, it is not a set law but a principle that is frequently incorporated into state concealed carry laws.
As of October 2005, Florida was the first state in the US to officially cite the Castle Doctrine in its state laws. Subsequently, more states have followed Florida’s lead to enact forms of the Castle Doctrine within their concealed carry laws.
Since that time, the NRA has lobbied states to accept some form of the Castle Doctrine, although the new law has been met with its share of criticism for promoting unnecessary gun use. However, according to FBI statistics, there were 241 justifiable homicides recorded in 2006, which was less than the 247 justifiable homicides recorded in 2003 – before the Castle Doctrine became popular.
As more states have begun to pass the Castle Doctrine as a part of concealed carry laws, a 13% decrease in justifiable homicides has been recorded in the past decade.
As of May 28, 2010, 31 states have enacted a form of the Castle Doctrine or stand-your-ground law.
Castle Doctrine History
Where does the Castle Doctrine come from? The term “Castle Doctrine” comes from common law in England that dictates that a man’s home is his castle. This was a 17th century English law brought to the US as the Castle Doctrine, implying that it is your right to exclude anyone from your home, with some legal restrictions.
Since the Castle Doctrine was introduced to the US, it has been adopted completely by some states and partially by others as immunity for gun owners that have participated in justifiable homicide. When it comes to state-by-state gun laws, the Castle Doctrine is popular, albeit controversial, since it allows a person who is being attacked in their home to use deadly force against an attacker.
General Castle Doctrine Guidelines
As stated above, each state will enact its own version of the Castle Doctrine regarding concealed carry legislation. Depending upon the state, there will be a wide variety of exclusions and limitations in the doctrine.
However, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind:
- You must believe an intruder intends to inflict serious harm on you or your family.
- You must believe an intruder intends to commit a felony in your home.
- You must not first provoke the intruder or threaten harm.
- Your intent must be to protect yourself or anyone else in your residence.
- You need to announce your presence and intention to retaliate before using deadly force.
In all cases where deadly force is used in a home, you must be legally residing in your residence, and the intruder must be there against your will, such as when breaking and entering. Some states will also extend these guidelines to a vehicle, workplace, or another residence where you are staying legally.
When the Castle Doctrine is enacted completely in a state, it provides total immunity in court, protecting you against future lawsuits from both an intruder and their family if you use deadly force in your home.
An official US Castle Doctrine map from the NRA can be found below:
Stand Your Ground
One of the most popular statewide annotations of the Castle Doctrine is the stand-your-ground clause. This clause indicates that a homeowner who perceives a threat of attack does not have an obligation to attempt to escape an attacker before using deadly force.
The stand-your-ground law is used for the purpose of self-defense with several guidelines:
- A law-abiding resident or visitor of a home can legally presume a threat of bodily harm or death from an intruder in a residence or vehicle and may choose to use defensive force, including deadly force, for self-protection.
- In another location where a person has a right to be, they are not required to retreat if they are attacked and may use deadly force if they believe that it will prevent death or bodily harm to themselves or another person.
- A person using deadly force under the law is immune from prosecution and can’t be arrested, unless there is proof that the use of deadly force was unlawful.
- If charges are pressed, and the court finds the person to be immune based on the stand-your-ground law, they will be awarded the court costs of defense.
States that have strong stand-your-ground laws will allow citizens to protect their homes, vehicles, or places of work with deadly force if an intruder has entered unlawfully or is attempting to enter using force. This may include crimes such as murder, rape, and robbery.
Florida is a state with the strongest Castle Doctrine in that the dwelling that you can legally protect against an attacker does not even need a roof. You can use the stand-your-ground law in Florida with a mobile or immobile home or even a tent.
States with a limited stand-your-ground law, such as California, will enable you to protect your home using deadly force if you feel that you are in physical danger, although this protection does not extend to theft in the home. It is also unlawful in California to use the stand-your-ground law in your vehicle or at work.
Duty to Retreat
On the other side of the coin is the duty to retreat law, which indicates that deadly force should only be used as a last resort in the event of an attack. Within reason, a homeowner should try to escape an attacker before retaliating for protection.
Duty to retreat may be cited in court in the case of self-defense if a person’s conduct in an attack was proven to be unjustified. In order for charges not to be pressed against a person who used deadly force against an attacker in their home, the defense must prove that they acted reasonably. In most cases, a person must have first tried to avoid conflict and attempted to retreat before eventually using deadly force against an attacker.
Among the states that have not adopted the Castle Doctrine completely, they have often passed a weaker version of the law that requires duty to retreat but will still allow the use of deadly force in the event of a home attack.
Castle Doctrine FAQs
Keep in mind that the legal specifications of the Castle Doctrine vary on a state-by-state basis, so it’s very important to become familiar with your state laws if you have a concealed carry permit.
Below you will find some of the most popular FAQs related to the Castle Doctrine so that you can better understand your right to self-defense when attacked in your home:
If I confront an intruder in my home, but he doesn’t have a visible weapon, how can I defend myself?
According to the Castle Doctrine, if you reasonably believe that an intruder is going to inflict bodily injury or death in a crime, such as a robbery, murder, or rape, you have the right to defend yourself and your family using deadly force if your state has a stand-your-ground law. However, if your state has a duty to retreat law, then you must do everything in your power to leave the scene without endangering yourself or your family before resorting to deadly force.
Whether or not an intruder has a visible weapon, if he is acting illegally and threatens bodily harm or death in a physical attack, you can use deadly force to protect yourself and your family under the stand-your-ground law. However, if a weapon is not being used against you in your home, it is important to make every reasonable effort to protect your own safety before using deadly force, including escaping or retreating from a physical attack.
Keep in mind that verbal threats will not justify the use of deadly force under the Castle Doctrine. If an intruder doesn’t have a weapon, they must indicate through physical attack that they intend to harm you or cause death. This would give you reason to believe that you must protect yourself using deadly force to prevent physical harm in your home.
What if the intruder does have a weapon?
If the intruder does have a visible weapon that he is using to threaten you with injury or death, then you have all the more reason to use deadly force if necessary to protect your home and your family under the stand-your-ground law. Once again, if your state has a duty to retreat law, then you need to do everything that you can within reason to escape an attack before using deadly force.
The Castle Doctrine will apply in your home if you are attacked by an intruder or even an invited guest who is acting unlawfully, in the strictest interpretations of the law. However, the Castle Doctrine does not apply in your home if the attacker and the person being attacked both have a legal right to be in the home, such as a husband and wife.
What if there are multiple intruders?
Regardless of the amount of intruders, the same rules will still apply. You can defend yourself and your family with deadly force if you feel threatened with death or bodily harm under the stand-your-ground law. Under the duty to retreat law, you must attempt to escape to the best of your abilities before attacking with deadly force as a last resort.
What if I am attacked in public?
In the majority of states, the Castle Doctrine won’t protect you in the use of deadly force if you are attacked in public. You must be defending your home, vehicle, or place of work in order to legally use deadly force against an attacker. As stated above, Florida is the state with the strictest Castle Doctrine law, which will allow you to defend your dwelling, even if it is a tent.
If you are attacked in public, you should attempt to escape and call a law enforcement officer, if possible, for help.
What if I am threatened in public?
At the most basic level, the Castle Doctrine will only protect you when using deadly force if you are defending your home or personal property if an attacker has entered your dwelling illegally. If you are in public and are threatened, you are not justified to use deadly force. You should instead call the police for help.
What if a loved one is threatened or attacked?
If a loved one is threatened or attacked by an intruder who has entered your home unlawfully, you can use deadly force to protect your family under the stand-your-ground law. However, if a loved one is threatened or attacked in public, the law does not protect you in using deadly force as self-defense since you are not protecting your family on your personal property. In public, you must attempt to escape and contact the police for help.
If a stranger is attacked in public, can I defend them with deadly force?
Although you possess a license to carry a concealed weapon, it does not qualify you to act as a police officer. Under the Castle Doctrine, deadly force is only justified if you are attempting to prevent a forcible felony with deadly force to defend yourself or your family on your property. The use of deadly force in this instance still must be absolutely justifiable as a means to prevent a crime.
If you see a stranger attacked in public, you should contact the police for help instead of intervening with deadly force. If you use deadly force in public in a situation where it is not necessary, you could be convicted of manslaughter.
The exception to this is in a state with very strict Castle Doctrine laws, such as the state of Florida. In Florida, if you see a person being attacked, you have the right to use deadly force to defend that person if the circumstances justify that the person being attacked would use deadly force in self-defense. You would have to “stand in the shoes” of the person who is being attacked to use deadly force in their defense.
What if I witness a robbery? Should I intervene?
If you are the witness of a robbery in a public place, such as a convenience store, the same rules above apply. You are not trained and licensed as a police officer, so you do not have the legal right to use deadly force to prevent a crime in public. If you witness a robbery, you should attempt to escape and call the police for help.
In some states with strict Castle Doctrine laws, deadly force will be justified if you are attempting to prevent a forcible felony from being committed. However, it must be absolutely necessary to use deadly force to prevent a crime.
In the event that a criminal attempts to flee the scene, you should not use deadly force under any circumstance to stop him because you would not be preventing the crime. Using deadly force in a circumstance where it is not necessary could cause you to be charged with manslaughter.
What if I point my gun at someone but don’t use it?
It’s important to never use a handgun as leverage in an argument or dispute. Even if you have a concealed carry license and threaten someone verbally while carrying a handgun, you could be sentenced to jail for up to three years. Even if the firearm is unloaded, you may still receive a mandatory three-year jail sentence if you are convicted.
To demonstrate the seriousness of this offense, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Licensing, in 1987, a woman refused to pay her mechanic because she believed he did a poor job repairing her vehicle.
This started an argument, and the mechanic chose to remove a radiator hose from her car so that the woman could not drive away. The woman reached into her purse to pull out an unloaded handgun and threatened to kill the mechanic if he touched her vehicle again. The mechanic took the handgun and called the police immediately.
As a result, the woman was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm and sentenced to the mandatory three-year prison term. It remained irrelevant that the gun was not loaded. The woman was also a mother of three children without a previous criminal record, but she did not receive parole.
Castle Doctrine Conclusion
When enacting the Castle Doctrine in your own home, never use a handgun to leverage an argument. It is also imperative that you do not use excessive force for self-defense; deadly force should only be used in self-defense if you have reason to believe that you or your family will be seriously injured or killed by an attacker in your home.