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Castle Doctrine vs. Stand Your Ground – What’s the Difference?
The castle doctrine is a doctrine of self-defense law in many states that says you can legally use force, including sometimes deadly force, to defend yourself at home from hostile intruders. By contrast, stand your ground is a doctrine of self-defense law in some states that is even broader than the castle doctrine. It says you can use force and sometimes deadly force to defend yourself in your own home and outsideof your home (for example, while at your place of work or in your vehicle) without a duty to try to retreat.
Note that self-defense is a common legal defense that you can use in criminal cases. For example, you can raise it to contest such criminal charges as:
State castle doctrine laws assert that your home is your castle, and therefore, you may legally use all manner of force including deadly force to protect it and its inhabitants from attack.1
Some state laws say that you have a duty to retreat from an aggressor before you can legally act in self-defense. But with the castle doctrine, you do not have to adhere to this duty when in your home.2
Note that self-defense laws vary from state to state. This variance means that castle doctrine laws may also differ slightly from state to state.
For example, while many states say that the doctrine authorizes the use of deadly force in just your home, the criminal laws of other states say that you can even legally use lethal force when protecting yourself at work or in your vehicle.3
While some states have specific statutes that set forth the castle doctrine, other state laws are explained in jury instructions and court cases.
2. What are stand your ground laws?
Stand your ground states are states that apply a stand your ground rule, often in addition to the castle doctrine.
This rule states that you can use force and deadly force when acting in self-defense, and there is no requirement that you have to retreat before doing so.
Further, the rule is not limited to self-defense in your home, but generally includes all places (for example, your home, place of work, vehicle, in public, etc.).4
Note that, as with castle doctrine laws, stand your ground laws will often vary from state to state. Many states limit the use of self-defense with notions of reasonableness and reasonable fear.
For example, some states say that you can only act in self-defense when you:
have a reasonable belief that there is an imminent threat of suffering great bodily harm/great bodily injury,
reasonably believe that the immediate use of force is necessary to defend against that danger, and
use reasonable force to defend against that danger.5
Further, some states say that you can only lawfully stand your ground if you are not:
a trespasser, or
the initial aggressor in an altercation.
3. Is self-defense a valid legal defense?
Yes. A self-defense claim is a valid affirmative defense to criminal charges in most states.
People often raise a castle doctrine defense or a stand your ground defense with violent crimes (for example, murder) and domestic violence offenses.
Note that if you kill another person in lawful self-defense, the law labels the killing as a justifiable homicide. This occurs when you kill someone intentionally but for a “justifiable” reason.6
A person using the defense of self-defense should consult with a criminal defense attorney.
The defense is sometimes tricky to raise, and a defense lawyer can provide legal advice on the specific self-defense laws of your state.
Note that most law firms and defense attorneys provide free consultations. A free consultation means you can get your legal questions answered at no cost.
Further, your communications with a lawyer are protected by the attorney-client relationship. Lawyers cannot disclose your confidences without first getting your consent.
Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Castle doctrine.”
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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