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The Castle Doctrine and the self-defense of a home in America

The Castle Doctrine and the self-defense of a home in America

The Castle Doctrine and the self-defense of a home in America


The American self-defense law for the most part requires that the defendant has the right to retreat to protect his safety in order to avoid harm or injuries before resorting to the use of force. The Castle Doctrine is an exception to this “duty to retreat” rule. It is considered as a justification to commit a felony or any kind of infraction when an intruder enters one’s private property. The defendant is exempt of criminal prosecution and civil suit. It is not an excuse that could be used before a trial but a justification that allows the defendant to use this rule as an affirmative defense during a trial.


This doctrine is based on English Common Law which provides that when any unwanted intruder enters one’s home, the land owner is in his Castle and has the right defend it.

It allows the owner or the resident of a home to use up to lethal force against an intruder. The early colonial states agreed that citizens use deadly force in those instances in which they reasonably believe that the force is required to prevent an imminent and unlawful entry.

However, the United States gradually abandoned this broad standard and adopted statues that restricted the use of deadly force in defense of the home.

Today, there is no uniform approach and each state has different statutes and requirements with regards to using force against an intrusion.

The resort to deadly force as a response to an intrusion is admitted by courts; however, following recommendations of the Model Penal Code, deadly force is typically limited to situations where the employment of non-lethal force would expose the occupant to substantial danger of seriously bodily harm.


In this article we will see the different conceptions of the Castle Doctrine across the USA divided in 3 major categories.


The Castle doctrine

Adopted in most parts of the USA (28), this doctrine is a statement that allows using force (until deadly force) under specific circumstances. This doctrine is the most restrictive statute of the self-defense of home in the United States and required a certain number of certain acts committed by the intruder before the defendant could riposte and defend his home.

The general conditions required using the force is limited to an illegal entry into a residence (business building included) or a vehicle. The resident must reasonably believe that the intruder is committing or attempting to commit a burglary, a robbery, to inflict bodily harm or to destruct property.

But most part of courts of these states required an act of defense from the defendant such as retreating into his home or calling the police before using force.


Stand-Your-Ground law

The concept of standing one’s ground allows people to defend their territory without any required preliminary retreat. This statute is issued from the precedent Beard V. US 1895 and recognized the right for the defendant to protect his property and is “in a good faith to believes that the intruder will try to take his life or do him great bodily harm”.

This conception is recognized in 12 states.


The most important difference between the Castle Doctrine and the Stand-Your-Ground Law stems from the fact that the self-defendant has to accomplish before to use the force. Under the Doctrine Castle one must try to avoid the using of force before shooting (as summons or retreat). Under the Stand-your-Ground Law, one may shoot before any summons every time he or she has a reasonable fear for safety.


Make my day!

The “Make My Day Law”, originating in Colorado, is one of the most controversial laws concerning self-defense in the USA. The name of this law comes from a line spoken by Clint Eastwood in a film called “Dirty Harry” in which he states “Go ahead, make my day!”, and is a good resume of the spirit of this law which is one of the most liberal statutes about self-defense in the USA. This law states that “Every citizens of the Colorado is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against other person that has made an unlawful entry into the dwelling”.

By consequence, every trespasser could be killed if he or she enters onto the property of another, even if he or she doesn’t threaten the owner or demonstrate suspicious behavior.


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