Dear Fellow Survivalist;
Self-defense laws are complicated by the fact that each state has its own laws. There is no national consensus on when you have the right to use deadly force and when you don’t; nor is there any federal law to that effect. Murder, manslaughter and other laws referring to the taking of human life are state laws, not federal laws. While some things are common, like homicide being illegal in all 50 states, other things, especially dealing with justifiable homicide vary considerably.
The Castle Doctrine is not a law, in and of itself, but rather a legal principle which is used in the writing of laws. It basically states that your home is your castle, and as such, you have a right to defend it. You don’t have to retreat when faced by a dangerous invader.
This legal principle can extend beyond the home, to any place you legally occupy. Your office, place of business, property you own or rent outside your home (such as your yard) and your vehicle can all be covered under the Castle Doctrine in some states.
A more extreme version of this principle is the Stand Your Ground legal doctrine. It states that you don’t have to retreat when faced with a dangerous situation, but that you can use deadly force in your defense. The basic difference between this and the Castle Doctrine is that it is not just limited to the home, but rather extends to wherever you are. Twenty-four of the states have incorporated Stand Your Ground into their laws.
At the other end of the political extreme we have a legal doctrine knows as Duty to Retreat. In states which formulate their laws according to this doctrine, you are legally required to abandon your property or anywhere you are, when faced with the need to use deadly force. The use of deadly force is only to be considered as a last resort, when you cannot retreat any further. There are 17 states that have passed laws incorporating a Duty to Retreat.
What this means is that you literally have to turn your property over to criminals, should they attack you or invade your home. It is up to the police to protect and/or retrieve your property if it is taken from you. The criminal’s right to life is considered a greater right than your rights to your property.
This isn’t to say that the criminal can and will get off scott free from committing a crime. Rather, it states that it is up to the legal system to mete out any justice in the situation. Of course, that assumes that the police are able to catch the individual, build a case and the courts actually convict them. I guess it all depends on how much faith you put in that system.
The real problem with the Duty to Retreat is that in some cases, retreating could put your family in grave danger. In the wake of a disaster, when critical resources like food and water are low, you would still be expected to retreat, turning your home and your supplies over to any home invaders. In such a case, you might stay out of jail by obeying the law, but your family may end up starving so that you can obey that law. This can put taking care of your family’s needs in direct opposition to the law.
The real confusion comes in that some states can actually incorporate both doctrines. There are states which support the Castle Doctrine, but also include a limited Duty to Retreat. Generally speaking, these states lean more towards the Duty to Retreat, than they do to the Castle Doctrine. So, even if you are within your legal rights, you could face prosecution.
Obviously, the Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground are conservative legal principles and Duty to Retreat is a progressive-liberal legal principle. So you can probably make a pretty good guess as to which one applies in your home state, just by the political stance of the state. But don’t make any assumptions. Finding out that your assumptions are wrong could prove to be very costly.
In addition to the written law, we must take into consideration case law. This means the decisions which have been handed down from the bench in previous cases. Your state might technically have a Castle Doctrine on the books, but in practice the judges come down hard on those who are forced to use deadly force in protection of home and family. Case law often supersedes criminal law in such cases, because the case law sets a precedent.
So what can you do? The first thing is to become informed about your state’s laws. But don’t stop with the written law or the summaries thereof that you can find online. Rather, seek out news stories of how people have reacted in self-defense situations and how the courts dealt with them. That will ultimately tell you more about the risks you face, if you are forced to use deadly force.
If you have any of the concealed carry legal insurance policies that are available, the organization that you bought your insurance through should be able to give you some accurate information about the application of law in your state. They will also most likely offer seminars on self-defense, where lawyers and police will explain and clarify how the law is applied in your state. Taking the time to go to a few of these is worth it. You’ll learn much more than just when you can shoot, you’ll learn how to better defend your home.
In the mean time, do what I always say; keep your powder dry and your survival gear close at hand.
Chris and Dr. Rich