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Castle Doctrine in California? Know Your Rights (2024)

California follows a version of the Castle Doctrine, which states that individuals have the right to defend their home (or “castle”) from intruders using reasonable force, including deadly force if necessary, to protect themselves or others inside the home from imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.
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What is the Castle Doctrine?

According to Wikipedia, the concept of a castle doctrine also referred to as a castle law or a defense of habitation law, establishes legal protections for individuals within their residences or other legally occupied spaces, such as vehicles [1].

This doctrine allows individuals, under certain circumstances, to use force, including deadly force, to defend themselves against intruders without facing legal prosecution for the consequences of their actions. While the term is predominantly used in the United States, similar principles are recognized in the laws of various other countries.

The application of castle doctrines may vary depending on the jurisdiction. In some areas, individuals may have a duty to retreat from a threat if it’s reasonably possible to do so. However, castle doctrines typically reduce or eliminate this duty to retreat when a person is attacked within their own home.

Deadly force may be justified under these circumstances, serving as either a defense against criminal charges or an affirmative defense in cases where the individual reasonably fears imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to themselves or others.

What California Law Says About the Castle Doctrine

According to California Penal Code § 198.5, the Castle Doctrine is stated as:

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

In California, individuals have the legal right to employ reasonable force to protect themselves or others from immediate danger, including the use of deadly force if deemed necessary. This legal principle, akin to the castle doctrine, extends to one’s home.

However, it’s important to distinguish between the castle doctrine and the defense strategies applicable in criminal trials. California law provides homeowners with the added latitude to utilize deadly weapons within their premises, even if such weapons would be prohibited outside the property.

Under this doctrine, homeowners are entitled to “stand their ground,” meaning they can defend themselves without the obligation to retreat to safety, even if retreat is a feasible option. The law recognizes the inherent right to defend against intruders without the expectation of fleeing when feeling threatened.

What is the “Stand Your Ground” Law?

According to NCSL, in 2005, Florida enacted a law concerning the castle doctrine, extending it with “stand your ground” provisions related to self-defense and the obligation to retreat [2.]. According to Florida’s legislation, “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is attacked in any place where they have a legal right to have no duty to retreat and may stand their ground, using force, including deadly force, if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent death, serious bodily harm, or the commission of a forcible felony.”

Laws in at least 28 states and Puerto Rico establish that there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any location where one is lawfully present. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

At least ten of these states explicitly include language allowing individuals to “stand their ground.” These states are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.

Eight states (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont and Washington) permit the use of deadly force in self-defense through judicial decisions or jury instructions – NCSL

Pennsylvania’s law, revised in 2011, differentiates the use of deadly force outside one’s home or vehicle. It stipulates that deadly force cannot be used unless there is a reasonable belief of imminent death or injury, and either there is no safe way to retreat or the attacker is displaying or using a lethal weapon.

What’s the Difference Between Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine?

According to SCLG, the castle doctrine permits the use of deadly force against intruders for self-defense within your home. On the other hand, the stand your ground doctrine allows for the use of proportional force to defend yourself in any location where you are legally present [3].

Only some states recognize the castle doctrine and stand your ground doctrine. Though every state recognizes the basic concept of self-defense, which permits you to use proportional physical force to defend yourself and others if you reasonably fear immediate bodily injury – though some states impose a duty to retreat before fighting back – SCLG

Both doctrines eliminate the duty to retreat. While the castle doctrine is typically restricted to your residence, the stand your ground doctrine applies universally. The castle doctrine specifically authorizes deadly force, whereas the stand your ground doctrine permits proportional force, which can include deadly force depending on the threat level.

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If you feel that your rights have been compromised in any of these matters, you should contact a personal injury attorney who can help.

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