It’s 3:00 AM and you hear someone in your family’s home. This is not a situation anyone wants to face, and each person will react differently.
Some grab a gun and make for the intruder, some call the police and gather the family and keep them safe. In situations like this, look to Roosevelt’s words of wisdom:
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
But how do you decide what to do? Understandably, you’re upset that someone is violating your home and family. What can you do within the bounds of the law to keep this lawless burglar from using your home as an ATM?
The English common law addressed this issue by instituting a mindset of total defense of the home. Basically, the 17th Century courts said “an Englishman’s home is his castle,” and he can do whatever he deems necessary to protect it from trespass. The colonists brought this over to the New World, removed the “Englishman” part, and called it the castle doctrine.
Over time, state legislatures eventually codified this doctrine into various forms and with differing standards. Some states expanded the doctrine to include other “castles” to include your car, your workplace, or any place that the defender has the right to be. Some states restricted the doctrine and state that the defender must make any and all reasonable attempts to retreat before taking force, and even if force is justified, this force can’t be deadly force. There are many variations between these two extremes, as most states are wary to go too far to either side.
Since this is a state law issue, what exactly you can do in the event someone intrudes your “castle,” depends on what state you are in at the time of the intrusion. Below is a list of the rights you have in each state:
No duty to
No duty to
Duty to retreat or
|District of Colombia
This list is highly interpretive, as I tried to make the laws fit neatly into three variations. Therefore, do not use this chart as a definitive guide to your actions, as the laws may have changed or the table may contain inaccuracies. There are also questions regarding what constitutes “retreat” in each state. Read up on your rights to defend your home under you state’s castle doctrine so that you may know your rights firsthand.
Where does your state fit in on this chart? Where would you like it to fit? Discuss this in the comments below.