Castle doctrine/ Common Law? Many in society think we all have the “Castle Doctrine” behind us, in the event of a violent encounter on our property or in our home. Please consider the following:
The Castle Doctrine 101
trespass, burglary, home invasion, peeping tom or just a mistaken
address. What are the rules of engagement for each? Believe it or not,
there are hundreds of laws on the books to protect the homeowner and, if
circumstances warrant, the seemingly innocent, simple
trespasser/mistaken address or the alleged criminal.
Engagement for simple trespass: you, the homeowner/renter/lodger, has
the right to engage anyone who is uninvited or unknown to you, who is on
your property. Depending on the circumstances, it may be a better idea
to monitor the trespasser at a distance, and not confront immediately.
If the person or persons are acting suspiciously, then it would be a
good idea to call the police after you have locked the doors (should
have been locked from the get-go). In the case where the neighborhood
kids are cutting through your back yard as a shortcut to their final
destination, let them go, no harm no foul. On the other hand, if they
destroy property while taking the short cut, they have committed a
crime, and the authorities should be notified. In the case where you own
a lot of land, if you see “hikers” dressed in camo walking about on
your property, be aware they could be poachers and armed, take
precautions and monitor from a distance. If you suspect the interlopers
are poachers, dial 911 and request Fish and Game officers or local law
enforcement or both. No matter what, if you engage them, by law you
could be perceived as the original aggressor, depending on the totality
of the circumstances, especially if someone is injured. If you must
approach, approach with a simple, yet distant “can I help you?”
The “Castle Doctrine” (Common Law) has a very narrow scope of leniency when it comes to curtilage and beyond.
of Engagement for Burglary – If it is suspected that someone has broken
into your home, prior to you entering, do not enter the home. Call
police and monitor the scene at a distance. If you enter the home during
the burglary, retreat to safety and call the police. In the event the
criminals decide to run, with or without the stolen items, do not chase
after them. Secure your safety and call police. If, on the other hand,
the criminals turn their attention to you, it could be assumed a felony
assault is likely to take place. In this case, the dweller can take all
appropriate actions to ensure their safety and the safety of family or
loved ones. Non-deadly force (recommended), or deadly force may be
allowed, to stop the crime in progress. Once again, it depends on the
totality of the circumstances.
The “Castle Doctrine” (Common Law) has some leniency regarding burglary turned felony assault/home invasion.
of Engagement for Home Invasion – Like everything else, there is no
absolute in an unpredictable situation. That said, we can all make
rudimentary adjustments to better prepare ourselves from becoming
victims of crime or tragedy.
Let’s address tragedy first. There
is an old saying “failing to plan, is a plan to fail”. It’s estimated
that 90% of “us” have never run a fire drill in the home/office with
family or employees. This could prove to be a fatal error in judgement.
contrast, failing to plan for a home invasion is much worse than not
preparing for a house fire, obviously. For those in doubt, please search
the Cheshire, Connecticut, home invasion murders that occurred on July
Planning for the emergency could have enhanced the victims’ threat response and changed the outcome.
let’s address home invasion. There is a myriad of laws written to
protect homeowners and business establishments under the banner of
“Castle Doctrine, Common Law, Stand Your ground and Duty to Retreat” in
various states and jurisdictions. By the very same vein, laws are
written to protect the “innocent” and criminals. Due to the ambiguity of
laws throughout our United States, it is highly advisable to be
familiar with the laws in your local jurisdiction or any jurisdiction
you may visit, concerning the use of force. Especially if that use of
force is deadly force.
The “Castle Doctrine, Common
Law” What does that mean? The doctrine came from old English law in that
it was regarded that a man’s home is his castle. The home is his
ultimate retreat, according to Barton vs State, “A man is not bound to
flee and become a fugitive from his own home, for if that were required,
theoretically, be no refuge for him anywhere in the world”. Maryland
does not have a Castle Doctrine law, but rather a Common Law, which
ironically, contains much of the same statutes and wording as the castle
doctrine. Combine this maze of laws with the Stand Your Ground law and
you have Common Law, sort of…
Additionally, in Barton vs
State, 420 A.2d 1009 (MD Ct. App 1980), [Deadly force permissible in
defense of dwelling under felonious attack]: A man is not bound to
retreat from his house. He may stand his ground there and kill any
person who attempts to enter by force for the purpose of committing a
felony, or inflicting great bodily harm upon the inmate. In such a case,
any member of the family, or even a lodger in the house, may meet the
intruder at the threshold, and prevent him from entering by any means
rendered necessary by the exigency, even to the taking of his life, and
the homicide will be justifiable”.
In reading the Castle Doctrine, Common Law proper, one would think anyone can kill someone who enters by force, period. Wrong.
word “felony” and “great bodily harm” is descriptive of the attack
taking place. Meaning if the home invader is trying to escape or run to
exit the scene, you are not allowed to engage him or them with deadly
As described in Black’s Law Dictionary, Abridged Tenth
Edition, Bryan A. Garner, Editor in chief: Castle doctrine. (1892)
Criminal law. An exception to the retreat rule allowing the use of
deadly force by a person who is protecting his or her home and its
inhabitants from attack, esp. from a trespasser who intends to commit a
felony or inflict serious bodily harm—also termed dwelling defense,
defense of habitation. See retreat rule. felony, n. (14c) 1.A serious
crime, usu. punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or by
death. * examples include burglary, arson. rape and murder. —also termed
major crime, serious crime, Cf. misdemeanor.
Another old English law is the “reasonable man standard”, recently modified to the “reasonable ‘person’ standard”. The definition in this legal standard is what would a reasonable person do in your shoes at the time and under the circumstances you were faced with at the time of the incident. If your actions were not deemed “reasonable” then your chances of being acquitted of a crime is slim to none. The Castle Doctrine and the Reasonable Person Standard go hand in hand, as with Common Law.
Toms – With respect to peeping toms, while you may want to exact
revenge by physically assaulting or, “citizen’s arrest” them and so
forth, be very careful. Our laws and legal system don’t allow for a
person to inflict injury or falsely imprison a demented person. Peeping
toms are classified as non-violent offenders, in many cases they are
mentally challenged, and this could be used against you, should you harm
them with violence.
The Rules of Engagement for Simple
Trespass, Mistaken Address – This one is easy. From a distance, ask how
you can help the distressed. If they attempt to come closer to
communicate, ask them to stay the distance and speak louder. Remember,
kindness to a criminal is weakness, however, some folks genuinely do
need help. If they knock on your door asking for help, it is suggested
you keep the doors locked and communicate through the locked door as
best you can.
Protecting your “Castle” – The ULTIMATE OUTCOME depends on the totality of the circumstances and your preparedness.
online readers, please visit Castle Doctrine from State to State from
South University in Savannah, Georgia…
And a great resource for the Armed Citizen, The Arm’s Citizen Legal Defense Network, https://armedcitizensnetwork.org
Crime is mobile, never consider your castle safe, unless you have taken extra measures to ensure that it is. Fire drills and home invasion drills, can save lives.