Posted on Mar 27, 2012 in Home & Living, Other stuff
I’ve heard a little bit about something called “The Castle Doctrine,” and I guess it has something to do with guns and self-defense. Can you tell me a little more about it?
Though there are various legalese definitions of the term out there, the “Castle Doctrine” (also known as a “Castle Law” or “Defense of Habitation Law”), in plain English, is as such:
A person protecting his or her property — such as a home, business, or even a car — may stand his or her ground and use deadly force against an intruder who intends to commit armed robbery and/or inflict serious bodily injury with no requirement to retreat to safety as opposed to defending themselves.
Okay, okay. Plain plain English:
If someone breaks into your house and tries to rob or hurt you, you can shoot/stab/otherwise injure or kill them instead of running away, with little to no fear of criminal or civil repercussion.
Essentially, the term is a play on the old saying “a man’s home is his castle,” which dates back at least to a historic English common law first established in the 17th century, and carried over to the new world with the colonists. There is some evidence that even that concept was based on an ancient Roman law.
Before you get all gung-ho about those darn kids on your lawn again, however, you should be aware that there are some restrictions — and that the castle doctrine may not apply in your particular state, or have more specific qualifications.
Please keep in mind this is a general list — I don’t have the room here to cover every single state’s law to the fine print. That is, of course, your responsibility as a responsible citizen.
I also must note that the Finder’s Free Super Happy Fun Legal Team™ is reminding me to point out to you that this is general information, and I’m not a lawyer, nor have I played one on TV. Consult with a local legal professional with any questions you might have.
So, with that said, here’s some typical conditions and exceptions:
Again, these are general guidelines, and I highly encourage you to check your local state/town/municipality’s laws.
As of the time of this writing (March 2012), here is a general breakdown of castle doctrine laws by state. Again — please verify this by checking your own state’s individual law before opening fire. I’m not showing up to bail you out.
The following states have a Stand-your-ground Law, with no duty to retreat regardless of where the attack takes place:
Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
The following states have a Castle Law, with varying degrees of strength and possible duty to retreat:
Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
The following states have either a weak or no specific Castle Law, and will judge each instance on a case-by-case basis:
Delaware, Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia.
The key question to ask is not “when can I shoot an assailant?” – but rather “when must I shoot an assailant?” Most states (“stand your ground” states excepted) require pursuit beyond one’s ability to reasonably retreat prior to using deadly force. When in your home, that pursuit is assumed – because shouldn’t your home be your last refuge?
From there, the test for self defense becomes threefold: an assailant must have (1) the ability, (2) the opportunity and (3) the intent to do you harm. Ability comes from the presence of a weapon – be it a firearm, a knife, or a large disparity of force, etc. Opportunity comes from distance – a person 10 yards away has little opportunity to assault you with a blunt object, while a person 100 yards away certainly has the opportunity to carry out an attack with a rifle. Finally, intent is an easy one – if an assailant has no intent to attack, it’s not much of an assault now, is it?
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