Castle doctrine

15 Dec

 This article is about the type of legal doctrine. For the video game, see The Castle Doctrine.

“Castle law” redirects here. For the hill in Scotland, see Castle Law.

A castle doctrine (also known as a castle law or a defense of habitation law) is a legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode (or, in some states, any legally occupied place [e.g., a vehicle or workplace]) as a place in which that person has certain protections and immunities permitting him or her, in certain circumstances, to use force (up to and including deadly force) to defend themselves against an intruder, free from legal responsibility/prosecution for the consequences of the force used.[1] Typically deadly force is considered justified, and a defense of justifiable homicide applicable, in cases “when the actor reasonably fears imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm to him or herself or another”.[1] The doctrine is not a defined law that can be invoked, but a set of principles which is incorporated in some form in the law of many states.

The legal concept of the inviolability of the home has been known in Western Civilization since the age of the Roman Republic.[2] The term derives from the historic English common law dictum that “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. This concept was established as English law by the 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke, in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628:[3]

For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].[3]

The dictum was carried by colonists to the New World, where it has become known as the castle doctrine.[3] The term has been used in England to imply a person’s absolute right to exclude anyone from his home, although this has always had restrictions, and since the late twentieth century bailiffs have also had increasing powers of entry.[4]

Another term, the “Make My Day Law”, arose in the USA at the time of the 1985 Colorado statute that shielded people from any criminal/civil suits for using force – including deadly force – against an invader of the home.[5] The law’s nickname is a reference to the line “Go ahead, make my day” uttered by actor Clint Eastwood‘s character “Dirty Harry” Callahan (in the 1983 police film Sudden Impact).

Justifiable homicide[6] inside one’s home is distinct, as a matter of law, from castle doctrine’s no duty to retreat therefrom. Because the mere occurrence of trespassing—and occasionally a subjective requirement of fear—is sufficient to invoke the castle doctrine, the burden of proof of fact is much less challenging than that of justifying a homicide. With a mere justifiable homicide law, one generally must objectively prove to a trier of fact, beyond all reasonable doubt, the intent in the intruder’s mind to commit violence or a felony. It would be a misconception of law to infer that because a state has a justifiable homicide provision pertaining to one’s domicile, it has a castle doctrine, exonerating any duty whatsoever to retreat therefrom.

The use of this legal principle in the USA has been a matter of international controversy in relation to a number of cases, including the deaths of the Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori and the Scottish businessman Andrew de Vries.

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