Every crime in California is defined by a specific code section. Our attorneys explain the law, penalties and best defense strategies for every major crime in California.
Yes. Under Penal Code 198.5 PC, California law follows the legal principle known as Castle Doctrine. This means there is no duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside his or her own home. Residents are permitted to use force against intruders who break into their homes, or who try to force their way in.
The text of the law reads that:
198.5. Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred. As used in this section, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury.
In California, there is a legal presumption that the resident reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves, or a member of the household, if:
A legal presumption means the prosecutor in criminal cases must prove that the resident did not have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death when asserting a use of force against the intruder. It basically gives the benefit of the doubt in such cases to the resident. Even if the resident kills the intruder, it may be deemed a justifiable homicide.
The public policy behind this law is that the very act of forcible entry entails a threat to the life and limb of the residents. See People v. Silvey (1997) 58 Cal. App. 4th 1320.
Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury. It is an injury that is greater than minor or moderate harm.
Please note that if any of the requirements are not met a person will be unable to invoke this doctrine.
No, if an intruder is not in the residence or trying to enter the residence the “Castle Doctrine” does not apply.
Here’s an example where a California homeowner tried unsuccessfully to invoke the Castle Doctrine:
During an argument, a handyman stepped onto a large front porch with a raised hammer. The homeowner shot him in the leg from inside the house. The judge ruled it was not a “Castle Doctrine” case because stepping onto the porch – while real property – was not an entry into the residence, and a reasonable person would expect people to come onto the unenclosed front porch. See People v. Brown (1992) 6 Cal. App. 4th 1489.
Please note that other California self-defense laws may apply when a person confronts an aggressor. Normally a person may only use the amount of force reasonably necessary to quell the danger.
No. Although the Castle doctrine under Calfornia Penal Code 198.5 PC applies only inside a person’s home, there are additional self-defense principles that apply in and out of the residence.
A person is not required to retreat in California. He or she is entitled to stand his (her) ground and defend with force if reasonably necessary, or even to pursue an assailant until the danger of death or bodily injury has passed.
Under California jury instructions CALCRIM 505 and CALCRIM 506, an accused is not guilty of using deadly force if he or she was defending themselves or another person against violent crimes. This applies both inside and outside the residence. The actions would be justified, and therefore not unlawful, if:
The imminent danger must be immediate and present. An imminent danger is one that must be instantly dealt with.
Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury.
The “Castle Doctrine“ only applies in a person’s residence or place of abode.
In California, stand your ground law (no duty to retreat) is a defense principle that can be asserted by someone who used reasonably necessary force inside or outside a residence.
Yes. Depending on the circumstances, a California homeowner could claim:
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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