Published On: Thu, Sep 17th, 2020

Can You Use Force to Defend Yourself in California?

California has a law stating that you have the right to defend your home while you are in it

and protect the inhabitants from invaders. The state finds you justified to use fatal force in most of these cases, but only if you can establish that the intruder posed a threat. For example, finding a stranger in your home isn’t a threat on its own, but if they pull a gun it is.  

People refer to this law as the Castle Doctrine, where the castle is your home. Lawyers call upon the castle doctrine when dealing with cases in which someone shoots and kills an intruder because they believe the intruder is there to cause them harm.

Legal experts dealing with the California Castle Doctrine also refer to this as the “Stand Your Ground” policy. The California Penal Code, Section 198.5 references the Castle Doctrine, yet it is not a “Stand-Your-Ground” state. These two situations are almost identical. The California policy protects an individual while he is in his home, or “castle,” which also includes his workplace or any real property he owns. 

The Castle Doctrine

The California Castle Doctrine supports your choice to use deadly force to protect yourself and your family in your home if you believe you are in imminent danger. The Castle Doctrine permits the use of deadly force if an intruder points a gun at you or a family member. In these cases, if you kill an intruder, it may be considered justifiable homicide.

The Castle Doctrine law will also cover you if you are forced to use deadly force to protect yourself from an intruder who is threatening your life in your vehicle, your place of employment, or your business. Stand-Your-Ground allows you to use deadly force if you believe you are in danger anywhere you are legally allowed to be, as long as you’re engaged in a lawful activity. 

Examples of Justified Self-Defense Cases

In one high-profile case, a man was sentenced to life in prison for killing two teens in a burglary. This case took place in Minnesota, which does not technically have Castle Doctrine laws but does legally allow the similar use of deadly force if your life is in danger. Although the man had been burglarized by the teens before, they were unarmed and had never threatened his life.

The man’s attorney argued that the defendant had the right to defend himself on his own property and that he did not know whether or not the teens were armed. His case was unsuccessful because it was determined that rather than defending himself, he had set a trap for the teens, lying in wait and committing premeditated murder. 

In a more recent case that took place in Guam, a U.S. territory, a man who shot an intruder was jailed on murder charges. His attorney argued that the killing was in self-defense, citing the fact that the intruder was shot in the front and not in the back. The fact that he was shot from the front could be construed as proof that he was approaching rather than retreating. 

Lawsuits and the Castle Doctrine

If you confronted someone who was posing danger to you and your family in your home and you used deadly force as protection, law officials may still charge you with a crime. Believe it or not, an intruder can also sue you for personal injury if you use a weapon against them in your own home. This may be the case if it could be proven that the intruder was unarmed. 

If you’ve used deadly force, you should talk to an attorney who can carefully examine your case and gather evidence that will prove you acted in self-defense. Proving that you acted in accordance with the law can be simple, even though the legal concept of defending yourself seems like it should be a given. 

If you were injured during the incident where you were forced to defend yourself, you can also file a civil suit to recover any damages like medical bills or the cost of damaged property. An attorney can determine the value of your claim and tell you more about your legal rights. 

In some cases a lawsuit won’t be worth your time and money because the intruder may not be in a position to pay damages unless they happen to have insurance. If a lawyer determines that the case isn’t worth pursuing, you still have one more option. You can take an intruder to small claims court, which is a fairly simple and inexpensive process. 

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