The Castle Doctrine has been discussed before with clear details of how your attorney can use this argument in your self-defense case. Different states have different conditions for when self-defense and force are necessary. In California, for example, the Castle Doctrine stipulates the requirements for self-defense in one’s home, business, or property. The extent to which an individual can use force highly depends on the circumstances presented. There are probably a few more things one should know about self-defense in California in relation to the Castle Doctrine. This post will help clarify and fill any lurking gaps that may be present in understanding Castle Doctrine in California.

The Castle Doctrine is one of the self-defense laws that some states have incorporated into their legal system. The other two common self-defense laws are the “Stand Your Ground” law and the “Duty to Retreat law”. Most states, with time, have enacted a Stand Your Ground law with Florida being the first one in 2005, but California still lacks a clear and definitive law. Instead, the State of California has the Castle Doctrine, which is similar yet different from the general Stand Your Ground law.

When and Where Does the Castle Doctrine Apply

Both laws are used interchangeably when finding out whether the defendant was justified to use force. California’s Castle Doctrine is sited in the State’s Penal Code 198.5, which states that an individual has the right to defend their home, property, or business using reasonable or even deadly force in the face of imminent danger. The term “castle” is symbolic of one’s home, which individual’s reserve the right to protect at all costs. In recent years, most states have broadened the scope to include private property, lands, and businesses.

As per the California PC 198.5,  an individual can use reasonable to deadly force against an intruder if they believe that such force would be necessary to prevent the intruder from causing harm. The use of deadly force is only justified under certain conditions, namely:

  • If it is used against someone who is not a resident of the house
  • If the person reasonably believed that using deadly force would end the imminent threat
  • If the individual believed that using such force was the only way to end the threat, and
  • If the individual used the amount of force proportionate to the threat

The Castle Doctrine, however, still faces certain limitations when it comes to confronting trespassers. For instance, shooting a trespasser who is not forcibly seeking entry into your home cannot warrant a self-defense argument. A typical example of this is if the trespasser is just peeking through the window without making any efforts to enter the house. You can brandish your weapon on them without firing but the first step is to verbally demand that the trespasser leave immediately. For these types of instances you should rely on a home security system. However, use of force may be used if the trespasser is uncooperative since the danger is still present. California’s Castle Doctrine also applies to private property and businesses. The general rule around this law is that reasonable and deadly force should only be used when necessary and should be equally proportional to the imminent threat.

What is the Relationship between the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Law?

As we mentioned before, the Castle Doctrine is only a variation of the Stand Your Ground law. If a state’s self-defense laws legally declare that an individual who faces certain danger from an opponent has no duty to retreat, that state automatically has a stand your ground law. The Stand Your Ground law gives you the option to defend yourself even if running away from the threat would have been the most logical and safest option.

Our Castle Doctrine operates on similar grounds. This legislature further allows an individual to pursue the threat until the danger is passed. To illustrate this, we can create a hypothetical scenario between two individuals, say A and B. if A is drunk and approaches B with a knife in his hand, B, who has a gun in his car can retrieve the gun and shoot A even if he had the security of his car and the option of driving away since he “reasonably believed” that his life was still in danger. The individual B may successfully convince the jury that he did so in self-defense. However, the Castle Doctrine loses its privilege if there was no longer an imminent threat, which would warrant deadly force. In our same scenario, if a bouncer happened to walk into the two and hold A into the ground, B is not justified to shoot since the imminent threat has been neutralized.

Taking into account both situations, one may feel the need to better understand what the law postulates as “reasonable belief” and “imminent danger”. The Judicial Council of California provides instructions for the jury on how to assess and determine the validity of the self-defense claims. The California Criminal Jury Instructions, otherwise known as CALCRIM 3740 contains these instructions and others. According to CALCRIM 3740, the defense must prove to the jury that the danger was about to happen. Any kind of threat which would be set in the future almost certainly does not fulfill the imminent threat clause.

In other words, one must prove that the danger set upon them was going to happen immediately and using deadly force was the only way to stop it then. The jury will also want to determine whether using the force was a reasonable measure. To do this, they can put a hypothetical “reasonable person” in the same situation and judge whether his actions would have been the most reasonable at the time. Even though the CALCRIM instructions are not laws per se, they do allow the jury to acquit an individual based on the Stand Your Ground laws as stipulated in CALCRIM No. 505 and 506, which both talk about justifiable homicide.

Self-defense should be a right afforded to every individual by the state. However, saving your life may go horribly wrong on you if a jury concludes that you inappropriately used this right. A criminal defense attorney like Don Hammond can help win your case against possible homicide or manslaughter charges.