Does California follow the Castle doctrine?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 25, 2019 | 0 Comments

castle doctrine: man entering a house through a window

Yes. The “Castle doctrine” says that there is no duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside the home. California Penal Code 198.5 specifically applies the doctrine to a resident who uses force against an intruder who breaks into a home, or tries to force their way in.

“A Person's Home is their Castle.”

The Castle doctrine designates a person's home as a place where the resident

can use force up to and including deadly force to defend against an intruder.

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:

  • an intruder unlawfully and forcibly enters or tries to enter the home;
  • the resident knew or reasonably believed that an intruder unlawfully and forcibly entered or was entering the home;
  • the intruder was not a member of the household or family;
  • the resident used force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to the intruder inside the home.

A legal presumption means the prosecutor in a case must prove that the resident did not have a reasonable fear of imminent death or injury when he or she used force against the intruder. It basically gives the benefit of the doubt in such cases to the resident.

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.

Does California's “Castle Doctrine” always apply if someone is in their home?

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 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 self-defense laws may have applied in this case.

Does a person have to retreat in California if they are outside their residence but still on their property?

No. Although the Castle doctrine under PC 198.5 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 505 and 506, an accused is not guilty of using deadly force if he or she was defending themselves or another person. This applies both inside and outside the residence. The actions would be justified, and therefore not unlawful, if:

  • The accused reasonably believed that the danger was imminent;
  • The accused reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger;
  • The accused used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

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.

What is the difference between the Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground?

The “Castle Doctrine“ only applies in a person's residence or place of abode.

In California, stand your ground (no duty to retreat) is a defense principle that can be asserted by someone who used reasonably necessary force inside or outside a residence.

Are there legal defenses if a California resident uses deadly force against a violent intruder?

Yes. Depending on the circumstances, a California homeowner could claim:

  • The Castle Doctrine applies under Penal Code 198.5;
  • Self-defense (stand your ground) applies under California case law, statutes, and jury instructions.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).


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