California Penal Code § 197 PC defines justifiable homicide as killing someone in self-defense or defense of others if the assailant is attempting to kill or severely injure someone. Under the state’s Castle Doctrine defense, it is also legal to kill a home intruder if the intruder clearly intends to commit a violent act on someone inside.
The language of the code section reads as follows:
197. Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:
(1) When resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person.
(2) When committed in defense of habitation, property, or person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony, or against one who manifestly intends and endeavors, in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner, to enter the habitation of another for the purpose of offering violence to any person therein.
(3) When committed in the lawful defense of such person, or of a spouse, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant of such person, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great bodily injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished; but such person, or the person in whose behalf the defense was made, if he or she was the assailant or engaged in mutual combat, must really and in good faith have endeavored to decline any further struggle before the homicide was committed.
(4) When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.
California Penal Code 197 PC permits people to kill in self-defense – or in defense of others – if the assailant is imminently attempting to kill someone or inflict great bodily injury. Otherwise, the victim must instead use proportional force – and not deadly force – to deflect the physical threat.1
PC 197 also spells out part of the requirements for California’s Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine allows a person to kill a home intruder if the following conditions are met:
- the defendant was defending his/her home or other property,
- there was an intruder who intended to commit an atrocious act (such as rape or robbery),
- the defendant reasonably believed that a threat of harm was imminent,
- the defendant reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to remove this threat, and
- the defendant used reasonable force to guard against the threat.2
Finally, California law permits people to kill while making a citizen’s arrest if:
- the arrestee was committing a felony that created a risk of death or great bodily injury, and the arrestee posed a future danger to society; or
- the citizen making the arrest was trying to suppress a riot.
California’s justifiable homicide cases center on the defendant’s state of mind and the circumstances. If a reasonable person in the defendant’s same situation would have used deadly force, then the defendant will likely be innocent of any murder charges.3
- California Penal Code 197 PC – Justifiable homicide by other persons. CALCRIM No. 3470. See also Penal Code 196 PC, Penal Code 195 PC, and Penal Code 198.5 PC.
- PC 197. CALCRIM No. 506.
- PC 197. CALCRIM No. 508. People v. Bates (Cal. App. 3d Dist., 2019), 246 Cal. Rptr. 3d 782, 35 Cal. App. 5th 1. People v. Sotelo-Urena (Cal. App. 1st Dist., 2016), 209 Cal. Rptr. 3d 259, 4 Cal. App. 5th 732.