Your home is your castle, and you expect it to be safe and comfortable. If someone you do not know breaks into your house and enters it, you have little choice but to assume the person intends to do something nefarious.
The castle doctrine comes from English common law. In broad terms, this doctrine permits residents to use force against individuals who break into homes or try to force their way inside. California follows the castle doctrine, which you can find in section 198.5 of the state’s penal code.
The elements of the castle doctrine
For the castle doctrine to apply in California, each of the following must be true:
- The intruder must not be a member of the family who lives in the home.
- The intruder must unlawfully and forcibly enter a home or attempt to do so.
- The resident must know or reasonably should know the intruder is unlawfully and forcibly entering the home or trying to do so.
- The resident must use force that is either deadly or likely to cause great bodily harm.
When the castle doctrine applies, Californians may use even deadly force to protect themselves. Even if the castle doctrine does not apply to your situation, you may be able to take advantage of California’s self-defense protections.
A rebuttable presumption
If prosecutors charge you with murder or a related offense, you may be able to use the castle doctrine as a defense. Still, the doctrine does not necessarily always exonerate criminal defendants. Instead, it creates a rebuttable presumption you acted lawfully. Prosecutors may rebut this presumption by introducing evidence that demonstrates you violated the law.
Because of the serious nature of murder charges, it is critical to examine all possible defenses. If you are facing charges for defending yourself or your home, though, asserting the castle doctrine may help you avoid significant criminal consequences.