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What is the Castle Doctrine in California?

The idea that a man’s home is his castle was expressed in English common law by Sir Edward Coke in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, but Sir Coke was quoting a concept that had roots going back to the Roman Empire. What relevance does the castle doctrine hold for California today? What is it and how is it applied? This blog will answer those questions, which are more complex than they might look at first glance. This complexity is inherent to a legal code, but knowing that doesn’t help mitigate the fear and confusion when in the moment you are charged with a crime. Don’t face this situation alone and get in touch with a Red Bluff criminal lawyer today.

The Definition of Castle Doctrine

Castle doctrine has been implemented in a number of states, oftentimes with differences state by state. It is a legal presumption that a resident of a home may without violating the law use deadly force against an intruder. In California, castle doctrine has been codified into law through PC 198.5.

California courts assume that, when a person breaks into another’s home, the homeowner may reasonably fear that they may die or be gravely injured. Forcibly entering another’s home is, by the nature of the act, a threat of harm. Because of that, it is understood that the homeowner is allowed to defend themselves, their home, or others in the home.

Stand your ground, a competing theory in the United, allows people to use even deadly force inside or outside their homes if it is reasonably necessary for self-defense. Opponents note that while stand your ground is meant for self-defense, many people have the implicit bias to perceive historically marginalized groups as more dangerous than they are.

Does the Castle Doctrine Have any Limits?

Castle doctrine applies exclusively to homes. States like Connecticut have legislatively tried and failed to extend the principles in castle doctrine to vehicles. In California, castle doctrine only refers to the home.

The category of “intruder” also does not capture others who live in the same home, like family members. In some states like New Jersey, this has been interpreted so strictly that even an abused wife who killed her abuser could not call on castle doctrine as an affirmative defense. This doctrine also doesn’t apply if the intruder is trespassing on someone’s property, but is neither inside the residence nor trying to enter the residence.

In some stand your ground states, people are allowed to pursue an intruder. California does not allow this after the attacker is not a threat anymore. Homeowners are not permitted to chase after intruders who leave, not without facing potentially serious legal consequences.