The Castle Doctrine, also known as the castle law or defense of habitation law, is a long-standing American legal concept that protects the right of an individual to act in self-defense in a manner that is appropriate for the circumstances. More specifically, you are likely protected from legal prosecution if:
- You are using force to defend yourself against an intruder and...
- The intruder is within your residence or any legally occupied place, vehicle, or workplace.
The Castle Doctrine is not a defined law that can be invoked, but a set of principles which may be included in the law in many areas.
- In some states, the law might say a person has a duty to retreat to avoid violence if he or she can reasonably do so.
- In other states, the Castle Doctrine laws might specifically contain a “stand-your-ground” clause. If so, the use of deadly force may be permissible to prevent felonies from being committed in one’s home or to protect against an assault in a place where that individual has a right to be, such as within one’s own home or garage. Deadly force may be justified and may provide a defense of justifiable homicide in cases when the resident reasonably fears imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm to himself or herself or to another person.
In addition to providing a valid defense in a criminal case, many states with a Castle Doctrine law, particularly those with a stand-your-ground clause, also have a clause which gives you some immunity from civil lawsuits filed on behalf of the assailant for damages/injuries resulting from the force used to stop the assault or intrusion.
- The self-defense immunity, when argued successfully, provides recovery of attorney’s fees and trial expenses if you are sued.
- Without this immunity, civil action could be used as revenge against a lawfully acting defender (who was originally the assailant’s victim). For example, if the force resulted in the assailant’s death, his or her next-of-kin or estate could launch a wrongful death suit. Then, even if the lawsuit is defended successfully, the defendant (the homeowner/defender) still might incur expensive legal fees before the lawsuit is dismissed.
If you use force in self-defense and cause damage or injuries to other, non-criminally acting parties, you may not be shielded from criminal or civil prosecution.