California’s Castle Doctrine Explained

The Castle Doctrine is a form of the stand-your-ground law that can be invoked in your home if you need to use deadly force when confronted with a deadly threat. Under the Castle Doctrine, there is no legal duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside their own home. In other words, California residents have the right to use force against intruders who break in or try to force their way into their homes. However, the fine details of the Castle Doctrine laws determine whether a person is prosecuted for assault, murder, or allowed to go free.

The following must occur in order to justify the use of deadly force under the Castle Doctrine:

  • The individual knew or had reason to believe the person illegally entered their home.
  • The intruder acted unlawfully.
  • The individual and anyone else in the home did not provoke the intruder in any way.
  • The individual had a reasonable fear of imminent death or suffering serve bodily injury to themselves, a family member, or someone else in the household.
  • The intruder was not a member of the household or family.

In cases involving the Castle Doctrine, prosecutors must prove that the resident wasn’t reasonably afraid they would die or sustain injury when they asserted deadly force against the intruder. Even when the intruder dies, the resident is generally given the benefit of the doubt, so the situation might be deemed a justifiable homicide.

However, California’s Castle Doctrine doesn’t apply if the intruder is not in the residence or trying to enter the residence. For example, in People v. Brown, a homeowner shot a handyman in the leg after he stepped onto a large front porch with a raised hammer. The judge ruled that the homeowner wasn’t covered by the “Castle Doctrine” because stepping onto the porch was not an entry into the residence. Additionally, a reasonable person would expect a person to use the unenclosed front porch.

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