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The Castle Doctrine: Definition, Law & Cases

Instructor: Dawn Young

Dawn has a Juris Doctorate and experience teaching Government and Political Science classes.

This lesson discusses the concept known as the Castle Doctrine. You will learn what the Castle Doctrine is, get an overview of the Castle Doctrine in different states and review some controversial cases that have resulted from it.

Introduction: Fighting Force with Force

Most people believe that if someone is trying to hurt you, you are allowed to defend yourself to the degree necessary to block the attack. If someone is trying to kill you and you end up killing them, generally that would be considered a reasonable use of force depending on the state in which it occurs. Likewise, if someone punches you in the face, you could punch them back to defend yourself. However, killing them for punching you would be considered going too far. Nevertheless, with more states having Castle Doctrine laws, what was previously considered murder may now be considered self-defense.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

The Office of Legislative Research in Connecticut defines the Castle Doctrine as the belief and the old saying that a person's home is his castle. Additionally, the doctrine states that if someone enters a person's home, the homeowner does not have to retreat but can defend his home and may use deadly force to do so.

Laws and Cases

The Connecticut Office of Legislative Research has identified 46 states which have enacted some type of Castle Doctrine law. The following cases are controversial for their holdings. The state laws upon which they were based will be discussed.

Montana

According to the New York Times, in 2012 an angry husband, a Mr. Fredenberg, stepped into the garage of the man who he believed was having an affair with his wife. That man, Mr. Harper, saw Fredenberg enter his garage. Believing he was about to be assaulted, Harper shot Fredenberg three times, killing him.

Even though Fredenberg was unarmed and never touched Harper, the county attorney declined to charge Harper because of a Montana law based on the Castle Doctrine.

Under Montana Code Annotated § (section) 45-3-103, you may use force to stop a person if he is entering your home illegally or attacking your home. The law then states you can use deadly force if someone enters or attempts to enter your home illegally and you either reasonably believe deadly force: a) is needed to prevent an assault, or b) is needed to prevent a forcible felony.

In this case, Harper had a reasonable belief he was about to be assaulted by Fredenberg after Fredenberg had illegally entered Harper's home. Under Montana law the use of deadly force was justified.

Texas

In November of 2007, as reported by The Texas Observer, a Mr. Horn was sitting inside his home and saw two men robbing his neighbor's house. He called the police to report it and was told to stay inside. However, when Horn saw the men leave his neighbor's house and cross into his yard, Horn left the safety of his house and confronted the men, ultimately shooting and killing them both.

Based on the Texas Castle Doctrine, Horn was not charged for killing the two men even though he left the safety of his home to confront them.

Texas Penal Code §9.32 states that a person can use deadly force to protect himself if: a) someone is using or attempting to use deadly force against him, or b) if someone is attempting to commit a violent felony and the person has entered or is attempting to enter or remove him from his home, vehicle, place of business or employment.

Texas Penal Code §9.32 also provides additional conditions for the justification of deadly force. The person responding with deadly force must have been in a place he was lawfully allowed to be, cannot have provoked the other person and cannot be engaged in criminal activity. The criminal activity does not include traffic infractions or Class C misdemeanors, which the person can actually be involved in when using deadly force. If these conditions are met, then the person is not required to retreat. Additionally the finder of fact--a judge or jury--cannot hold it against the person using deadly force that he did not retreat.

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