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Is California a “stand your ground” state?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Jun 27, 2019 | 0 Comments

california man "standing his ground" with a gun

Under California self-defense laws, you have the right to “stand your ground” and protect yourself without retreating. Caselaw and jury instructions recognize the right of a person to use force without first trying to escape or run away (stand your ground), even if outside the home.

Stand Your Ground Laws

Establish the right to defend one's self or others when there is a reasonable belief of a threat. Deadly force is reasonable if there is an imminent danger of great bodily harm or death. A person does not have to retreat.

Under California law, someone acts in lawful self defense or defense of another if:

  • the person reasonably believes that he or she, or another person, is in imminent danger of being harmed;
  • the person reasonably believes that the immediate use of force is necessary to defend against that danger; and
  • the person uses no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

The imminent danger must be immediate and present. Under California case law an imminent danger is one that must be instantly dealt with. See People v. Humphrey (1996) 13 Cal.4th 1073.

Please note that a person is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation.

To decide whether a person's beliefs are reasonable, all of the circumstances as they are known to and appeared to a person are considered and compared to what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed.

Can a person use deadly force to defend themselves in California?

Yes, in California a person can use deadly force or violence against another person to protect themselves or others from harm. This is known as an affirmative defense.

A California jury instruction (CalCrim 505) states that a person acted in lawful self-defense if he or she reasonably believed that:

  • There was an imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury;
  • the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; and
  • he or she used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

Imminent danger must be immediate and present, and not prospective or even in the near future. An imminent danger is one that must be instantly dealt with.

Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury.

Further, this jury instruction makes clear that a person does not have to run away:

“An accused is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of death or great bodily injury has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.”

Can a person use force to defend personal property in California?

Yes, the owner or possessor of personal property may use reasonable force to protect that property from imminent harm. A person may also use reasonable force to protect the property of a family member or guest from immediate harm.

Reasonable force means the amount of force that a reasonable person in the same situation would believe is necessary to protect the property from imminent harm.

The use of deadly force in protecting property is authorized in the following circumstances:

  • In defense of habitation or property against one who intends, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony; or
  • When committed in defense of habitation or property against one who tries to enter in a violent manner to commit violence on someone inside.

Can a person use force to evict a trespasser from their property in California?

Yes. The lawful occupant of property may request that a trespasser leave the property. If the trespasser does not leave within a reasonable time and it would appear to a reasonable person that the trespasser poses a threat to the property or the occupants, the occupant may use reasonable force to make the trespasser leave.

Reasonable force means the amount of force that a reasonable person in the same situation would believe is necessary to make the trespasser leave.

If the trespasser resists, the lawful occupant may increase the amount of force he or she uses in proportion to the force used by the trespasser and the threat the trespasser poses to the property.

What is the difference between Stand your Ground laws and the Castle Doctrine?

Stand your ground laws generally establish a right by which a person may reasonably defend themselves or others, even to the point of applying lethal force, regardless of whether retreating from the situation might have been possible.

Stand your ground laws in California:

  • apply anywhere a person is legally allowed to be,
  • do not require a person to retreat.

The Castle Doctrine, based upon old English common law that said “A Man's Home is His Castle,” applies only when someone is assaulted within their own home. See California Penal Code 198.5.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

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, Court TV, 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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