If someone kills someone while protecting their home, they may have a case for not being convicted of a crime under California’s Castle Doctrine. Here’s what you need to know about this law and how it applies to various cases.

What Is California’s Castle Doctrine Law?

In California, Penal Code 198.5 is the Castle Doctrine. The name comes from the old saying, “A man’s home is his castle.” Briefly, the Castle Doctrine states that someone has the right to defend their home, even if it means using deadly force. The person defending their home doesn’t need to try to retreat; they simply have the right to defend their home.

The doctrine says that if a resident severely injures or kills an intruder, they must meet the following criteria to be found not guilty under the Castle Doctrine.

  • The resident was reasonable to believe there was immediate danger.
  • The resident was reasonable to believe that they must use deadly force to defend themselves and their home against the immediate danger.
  • The resident is allowed to use deadly weapons within their home that would be illegal if they were outside the home.

What Are the Conditions for Using the Castle Doctrine as a Defense in California?

The Castle Doctrine doesn’t provide complete protection for someone killing someone else in their home, and it’s essential to understand the circumstances in which it can most successfully be used. Misapplication of the Castle Doctrine could cause a loss in court and lead to severe consequences. Here are some of the most critical points.

  • The Castle Doctrine doesn’t apply to people who live in the same household, whether family or roommates.
  • It doesn’t apply to places such as businesses or vehicles, only private residences.
  • It doesn’t apply if an intruder is outside the home. The intruder must be in the home or forcibly trying to enter for the Castle Doctrine to be valid. If the intruder is in the yard or on the porch but isn’t trying to enter, the resident can’t kill them and claim the Castle Doctrine as a defense.
  • The intruder was unlawfully in the home and entered (or tried to enter) by force.
  • The resident had reason to believe that the intruder had forcibly entered the home against the resident’s will.
  • If the resident threatens the intruder and the intruder retreats, the resident cannot pursue them to kill them and still be safe under the Castle Doctrine. That’s because no further action should be taken if the resident’s threats were enough to send the intruder fleeing.

In a nutshell, the Castle Doctrine means that someone who didn’t live in the residence forced their way (or tried to) into the home for various reasons (theft, home invasion, etc.), and the resident used severe or deadly force to stop them in order to defend their home. But some nuances can make this defense complicated. That’s why it’s highly recommended that someone considering using a Castle Doctrine defense work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Is the Castle Doctrine the Same Thing as Stand Your Ground?

While the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, that’s not entirely correct. The Castle Doctrine is specific to residents defending their homes using any force necessary. Stand your ground is something that can be used in cases outside the home where the individual killed someone because they believed their own life was in danger. California doesn’t have a specific stand-your-ground law, but some cases have used it successfully as a self-defense plea.

What Is “Legal Presumption” in a Castle Doctrine Case?

A legal presumption is a code that applies to cases unless the prosecutor can prove something else. In the Castle Doctrine, a legal presumption case means the prosecutor in the criminal case has to prove that the resident was not in a situation of imminent peril or death and knew that when they used deadly force. But when an intruder breaks into someone’s home without permission, it’s largely believed that the resident has reason to fear for their life and take the action necessary to prevent injury or death to themselves.

Prosecutors may try to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the resident was not in imminent danger and knew it or used unnecessary force. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can work to counter those claims.

What Are the Consequences for Murder Convictions in California?

If the Castle Doctrine is deemed invalid, someone could face murder convictions with the following consequences.

  • Second-degree murder. This can result in a prison sentence of anywhere from 15 years to life. If there are prior convictions, the sentence could be harsher.
  • First-degree murder. This can result in a prison sentence of anywhere from 25 years to life. The sentence could be harsher if the conviction is related to a hate crime.
  • Capital murder. This is the highest level of murder charge in California. Being convicted of capital murder can result in the death penalty or life in prison with no possibility of parole.

What Should I Do if I Need Help with a Castle Doctrine Case?

Call the SoCal Law Network at 949-305-7995 to set up a free consultation. We can walk through the specifics of your case and help you understand if the Castle Doctrine applies and how to use it as a defense. Because this is a complex area of law, the sooner we can begin working on your case, the better.