What is a Castle Doctrine?

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  • Written By: Elizabeth West
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 14 March 2020
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A castle doctrine is an American legal doctrine that says if a person is attacked in his home, he may use force to defend himself and his property, including deadly force if deemed necessary. In some jurisdictions, a duty to retreat first is not required. While the law may vary in different states, most agree on this basic definition. The term castle doctrine comes from the old English common law stating “a man’s home is his castle.”

In order to satisfy the castle doctrine, certain conditions need to be met. First, the intruder must have entered unlawfully, and the occupant should be there legally. Second, the occupant must believe that the intruder has intent to hurt or kill the occupant without provocation. In some states, the occupant is required to at least make an attempt to retreat before using force. Without meeting these conditions, a defense under the castle doctrine may face some difficulty in court.

A castle doctrine may contain a “Stand-Your-Ground” clause, stating the occupant has no requirement to give ground to an intruder. It relieves the homeowner of the duty to announce the use of force, or attempt retreat first in a place where his presence is lawful. The use of deadly force in self-defense requires an investigation by law enforcement. Most doctrines protect against arrest, detention, and prosecution for actions taken in defense of home or property.


Some states have provisions that the occupant cannot be arrested unless law enforcement officers deem the defensive actions to be unlawful. This does not always relieve legal difficulties. There have been cases where an intruder has sued the occupant for injuries or disabilities sustained during the incident. Under the US legal system, filing such a suit is allowable, although it is unlikely to be won. With a duty to retreat clause present under which the occupant must announce his intent to use force, such a lawsuit may have merit.

Critics of the castle doctrine have argued it is too general and protects people whose actions are initially questionable. For example, in one 2010 case in Pike County, Ohio, a man stole from a drug dealer and then shot him when the dealer attempted to enter his car. The jury convicted the man of reckless homicide rather than murder under the castle doctrine. Lawyers argued this was a misuse of the doctrine. Supporters said the doctrine applies since the letter of the law was observed under the circumstances.

The castle doctrine allows people in the US to legally defend themselves in the event of attack in their homes or property. A decision to use force is a difficult one to make in the best of circumstances. Firearms owners should make certain they are fully versed in the laws of their state. Doing so can reduce liability, as well as negative emotional consequences.


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