In California, residents have no duty to retreat if they confront an intruder inside their home. They may use force against intruders who use or attempt to use force to gain entry. This is based on the adage “A Person’s Home Is their Castle,” also known as the Castle Doctrine. Californians’ right to use self-defense in this situation is regulated by statute, specifically California Penal Code § 198.5. While California law declares to be justifiable, homicide committed in reasonable defense of habitation, it extends the presumption of “a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury” only to residents.

A legal presumption exists in California that the resident of a dwelling reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves, or a member of the household, if:

  • an intruder unlawfully and forcibly enters or tries to enter the home;
  • the resident knew or reasonably believed that an intruder unlawfully and forcibly entered or was entering the home;
  • the intruder was not a member of the household or family;
  • the resident used force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to the intruder inside the home. Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury that is greater than minor or moderate harm.

The significance of this legal presumption is that the prosecution must, therefore, prove that the resident did not have a reasonable fear of imminent death or injury when he or she used force against the intruder. This means that the burden is on the prosecution to prove the lack of a reasonable fear rather than on the resident to prove the existence of reasonable fear, thus giving the benefit of any doubt to the resident. If any of the above four requirements are not met, a resident of a home alleging self-defense may not use the Castle Doctrine as a defense.

Although the Castle doctrine applies only inside a person’s home, a person is not required to retreat under California law. Residents may stand their ground and defend with force if reasonably necessary, or even pursue an intruder until the danger of death or bodily injury has ceased.

California law permits persons to use deadly force if they are defending themselves or other persons, inside and outside the residence. The law considers these actions as justified, and therefore not unlawful if the following all apply:

  • There was a reasonable belief that the danger was imminent;
  • There was a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger;
  • No more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

The imminent danger must be immediate and present, and therefore must be of a nature that requires instant attention. Whereas the “Castle Doctrine“ only applies in a person’s residence or place of abode, the Stand Your Ground Doctrine, where there is no duty to retreat, may be asserted by a person who uses reasonably necessary force inside or outside a residence.

The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices may help any Californian obtain the best possible result in his or her criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. Certification as a Specialist in Criminal Law is the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices have decades of experience defending individuals charged with drug possession, domestic violence, DUI, and violent felonies. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

Self-Defense And the Castle Doctrine

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