Castle Doctrine Definition

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Castle Doctrine Definition

The Castle Doctrine, commonly referred to as a defense of habitation law, regards an individual’s ability to protect themselves and their homes in the event of invasion by an intruder. More specifically, it provides legal protections for the use force to defend one’s home without facing prosecution for the use of force. The castle doctrine is closely related to stand-your-ground laws.

A Little More on What is the Castle Doctrine

Where reasonably possible, an individual should retreat to escape violence. Castle doctrines lessen an individual’s duty to retreat when they are attacked in their own homes. In the event of an attack and a person fears, with reason, of bodily harm or death to them or another, they can use force which will be justified, proof for charge impeded and affirmative defense against criminal homicide will be applied.

Castle doctrine does not refer to a defined law but a set of principles that apply in many jurisdictions. The doctrine does not provide civil immunity, say from wrongful death suits.

Castle doctrines applies in cases of justifiable homicide in self-defense. The homicide has to occur inside a person’s home and the homeowner has to objectively show that the intruder had intentions of causing bodily harm or commit a felony.

There are different ways in which this doctrine is incorporated into law. The circumstances considered when invoking this doctrine include premises covered, degree of retreat or non-lethal resistance applied before use of force and much more. Common conditions that involve invoking this doctrine include:

Intruder acting unlawfully or forcibly entering private residence, vehicle or business.

  •         The intruder must not be an officer of the law
  •         Occupants of the home, office space or vehicle must reasonably believe that the intruder intends to harm them. In some states, the occupants only need to prove the intruder intended to commit a lesser felony such as burglary.
  •         Occupant of the home must not, in some way, have provoked the intrusion. The occupant must not be a fugitive of the law,

Colorado has make-my-day statute which offers immunity from prosecution for force used on an individual who makes an unlawful entry but not for force used against a person who stays unlawfully in a premise.

Besides providing defense in criminal law, defenders are provided immunity from civil lawsuits. Without a clause that offers immunity, assailants can sue defenders for medical bills, disability, and pain resulting from injuries inflicted from used force. If the assailant dies, the next of kin could sue for wrongful death, but this is curtailed by this clause. However, immunity is not extended to the use of force which results to damages or injuries to non-criminal parties in intrusions.

References for Castle Doctrine

Academic Research on Castle Doctrine

  • Stand your ground: Florida’s castle doctrine for the twenty-first century, Catalfamo, C. (2006). Rutgers JL & Pub. Pol’y, 4, 504. In this article, the author observes that crime levels are high in Florida, jails are crowded, there are so many races living in the state and the state is highly urbanized. All that notwithstanding, the state modified their castle doctrine in 2005 into a group of principles referred to as stand your ground where one is allowed to use force before trying to retreat. The author observes that this move is criticized as a way of justifying use of brutal force while castle doctrine was meant to justify self-defense.

Does strengthening self-defense law deter crime or escalate violence? Evidence from expansions to castle doctrine, Cheng, C., & Hoekstra, M. (2013). Journal of Human Resources, 48(3), 821-854. In this paper the author examines the effects of strengthening self-defense laws. The author observes that, stand-your-ground laws reduces the cost of using lethal force and increases the cost of committing violence crimes. This study shows that castle doctrine and stand your ground laws do not deter burglary and assault but instead increase, up to 8 percent, reported murders and manslaughters.

The state of the castle: An overview of recent trends in state castle doctrine legislation and public policy, Boots, D. P., Bihari, J., & Elliott, E. (2009). Criminal Justice Review, 34(4), 515-535. This article examines the implications of castle doctrine on public policy and it discusses criminology law in relation to self-defense statutes. It observes that, most states allow home owners to have guns to protect themselves and this can enhance crime instead of reducing its rate.

A Defensible Defense: Reexamining Castle Doctrine Statutes, Levin, B. (2010). Harv. J. on Legis., 47, 523. In August 2006, John White shot and killed Daniel Cicciaro who had threatened his son and was on this lawn drunk. Because New York did not have an elaborate castle doctrine, John White could not argue self-defense as Ciccario had not produced any weapon. This paper analyzes this and other such cases and the application of Castle Doctrine statutes in different states.

The deterrent effect of the castle doctrine law on burglary in Texas: a tale of outcomes in Houston and Dallas, Ren, L., Zhang, Y., & Zhao, J. S. (2015). Crime & Delinquency, 61(8), 1127-1151.  In this paper, the author examines the deterrent effects of castle doctrine on theft and burglary in Houston and Dallas. The findings of this study suggests that business burglaries reduced in Houston after a self-defense shooting incidence but the rate of burglary in Dallas remained the same.

Florida’s Protection of Persons Bill, Michael, D. (2006). Harv. J. on Legis., 43, 199.  This paper looks at the passing of the stand-your-ground statute in Florida and how it has affected the rates of burglary, assault and murder in the state.

The Castle Doctrine: Extension of the Rule to Co-Inhabitants, Etheredge, C. S. (2000). Fla. L. Rev., 52, 695. This paper examines the application of castle doctrine and how it does not cover co-inhabitants or spouses. It looks at a specific case where a lady shot and killed her husband and then petitioned for self-defense stating that she feared her husband might kill her. The lady was found guilty of second-degree murder and the judge explained, after she appealed, that castle doctrine does not cover co-inhabitants in Florida.

The Castle Doctrine-The Lobby Is My Dwelling, Light, J. G. (2012). Widener LJ, 22, 219. This paper seeks to address the ambiguity of the term ‘dwelling’ as used in Pennsylvania’s castle doctrine statute. It explores what constitutes of a person’s dwelling to answer fundamental questions such as whether the lobby is a part of one’s dwelling.

Legal questions for the psychology of home, Barros, D. B. (2008). Tul. L. Rev., 83, 645. This paper examines the role of intuition in self-defense and the laws that apply therein. It explores different property theories that base their arguments on intuition and how these theories merge or conflict with the law.

Returning to the Roots of the Castle Doctrine: Why Recent Stand Your Ground Laws Are in Line with the Natural Law, Skiba, R. (2016). S. Region Black Students Ass’n LJ, 10, 71. This article is an overview of the origin of self-defense laws and the new American self-defense laws. It correlates the new self-defense laws with natural laws but observes that there are judicial interpretations that are more loose that what natural laws warrant.

Indiana Constitutional Developments: Debtors, Placements, and the Castle Doctrine, Laramore, J. (2011). Ind. L. Rev., 45, 1043. In this paper, the author looks at the general nature of castle doctrine in Indiana at the time the statute was implemented. It observes that, residents of Indiana could forcibly keep officers of the law and debtors away from their home. It looks at the different ways in which the statute has been modified.

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