A castle doctrine (also known as a Castle Law or a Defense of Habitation Law) is an American legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode (or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as a car or place of work) as a place in which the person has certain protections and immunities and may in certain circumstances attack an intruder without becoming liable to prosecution. 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 himself or another”.
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 most states. The term derives from the historic English common law dictum that “an Englishman’s home is his castle”. Each state differs in the way it incorporates the castle doctrine into its laws, what premises are covered (abode only, or other places too), what degree of retreat or non-deadly resistance is required before deadly force can be used, etc.
There are now 31 states that have some form of the law, the question is often raised, how can the Castle Doctrine protect you when you defend your family? The first thing to understand is just what the intent of the law entails and some background as to why it was passed. There is a long history that is based on one’s right and ability to protect their property and families. In other states the issue has been addressed with laws describing the defense of homes and property. One of the most interesting was the so-called “Make my day! law in Colorado. It was taken from the statement made by ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan in the Clint Eastwood movie, “Sudden Impact. ”
The concept of the right for one to protect their own home has its roots in ancient Jewish and Roman law and was explicitly expressed in English Common Law of the 1700’s. Roman philosopher and lawyer Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “What more sacred, what more strongly guarded by every holy feeling, than a man’s own home? ” Thus it has come to be summed up in terms like, ‘A man’s home is his castle. Some states took a somewhat opposite stance and required homeowners to observe a duty-to-retreat.
Basically, one would be required to take the responsibility to get away from a perceived threat first and then announce to the burglar that possible violent or deadly force may be used against them. Then the laws may be further complicated by exactly what amounted to as an announcement. It could range from the sound of a gun being cocked, a laser being aimed, or a voice command. All of the variables would be basically left up to law enforcement, district attorneys, and judges.
It also could very well leave a home-owner open to civil lawsuits from the intruder or their survivors. These issues were addressed by the passing of the Texas law and were supported by a majority of members in both state assemblies. Not only did it remove any obligation for one to retreat first, it protected people taking defensive measures whether in their homes, cars or workplaces. Some of the requirements to qualify for protection under the law included criteria that there must be a person in the vehicle or building.
There must be no criminal activity engaged in by the defender and no provocation can have taken place prior to the defensive force being taken. Charges can still be brought by authorities if they question the use of deadly force in any case. One important element as to how can the Castle Doctrine protect you when you defend your family goes beyond the right to protect that which you hold so dearly. It will also protect you from the possibility of being brought into court in a civil suit for damages if one is injured or killed if you were required to protect yourself with deadly force.
The Joe Horn shooting controversy refers to the events of November 14, 2007, in Pasadena, Texas, when local resident Joe Horn shot and killed two men burgling his neighbor’s home. Publicized recordings of Horn’s exchange with emergency dispatch indicate that he was asked repeatedly not to interfere with the burglary because the police would soon be on hand. The shootings have resulted in debate regarding self-defense, Castle Doctrine laws, and Texas laws relating to use of deadly force to prevent or stop property crimes.
The illegal alien status of the burglars has been highlighted because of the U. S. border controversy. On June 30, 2008, Joe Horn was cleared by a grand jury in the Pasadena shootings. There have been many debates over the castle doctrine, but the most important arguments relate to taking a person’s life for a minor misdemeanor. “`Can you kill a man for shoplifting? ‘ That’s exactly what a store clerk did in Jackson, Miss. The guy wasn’t armed or anything, he just decided to steal some beer.
Many say the clerk had no right to kill the guy, yet others say the guy put his own life at risk. A week later in the same city, a similar scenario came about. A clerk chased down, shot and killed a man for stealing money from the cash register. This seems more acceptable to more people because the robber stole money and was armed unlike the previous shoplifter. Although the clerks could have refrained from shooting the thieves, they elected to because of the new law that allows them to have a chance to be justified.