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The "Castle Doctrine" in California - Penal Code 198.5 PC

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 25, 2023

As in many states, the State of California gives you the legal right to defend your home with deadly force, if necessary. This is known as the "Castle Doctrine," embodied in California law in Penal Code 198.5 PC.  

This law is sometimes called the “stand-your-ground” law, as there is no duty to retreat if you come into contact with an intruder inside your home, but the two laws have some differences.

The "Castle Doctrine" in California - Penal Code 198.5 PC
The Castle doctrine gives people the right to defend their home against any intruders.

The Castle Doctrine empowers individuals with the right to exercise reasonable force—up to and including deadly force—to defend themselves against an intruder in their homes without the usual legal repercussions of such actions.

California's Castle Doctrine is the legal principle in which residents are presumed to have a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury if an intruder forcibly enters their home.

Thus, it could be deemed a justifiable homicide if the resident kills or injures the intruder in self-defense. The “intruder” does not include people who live in the home, such as family members.

PC 198.5 says, “Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

As used in this section, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury.”

It's important to note that the Castle Doctrine does not apply if the intruder is not inside or trying to enter the residence.  However, the stand-your-ground law is a defense that can be used for someone who uses force inside or outside the home. However, this law has its complexities and specific parameters. Let's review this state law further below.

The Castle Doctrine - Explained

The central premise of the Castle Doctrine is that a person has the inherent right to defend their home. It derives its name from the old adage, "A man's home is his castle."

The Castle Doctrine
The Castle doctrine basically says that a person has the inherent right to defend their home.

While this belief as a legal concept can trace its roots as far back as the Roman Empire, the more modern origins of the Castle Doctrine can be traced back to English common law in the early 1600s when renowned jurist Sir Edward Coke established it in his work, The Institutes of the Laws of England.

Over the years, many states in the U.S., including California, have adopted and modified this doctrine to cater to their jurisdictions' unique needs and circumstances.

In California, this principle is expressed as follows in PC 198.5. This code stipulates that any person who uses force likely to result in death or significant bodily harm within their dwelling will be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury when that force is used against someone, not a member of the family or household, who forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence.

In other words, since the act of forcible intrusion implies the threat of harm to the residents, the law begins with the baseline assumption that the person responding to an intruder was acting in defense of self, home, or others.

The Castle Doctrine involves what is known as a "legal presumption," meaning the resident using deadly force against an intruder is legally presumed to have the benefit of the doubt—even if the intruder is killed in the process.

What are the Key Criteria for Invoking PC 198.5?

The presumption of defending one's castle is not absolute. While the Castle Doctrine provides legal protection for residents responding to a home invasion, it does not guarantee complete immunity from prosecution. To qualify for the legal presumption offered by PC 198.5, all of the following must be true:

  • The intruder unlawfully and forcibly entered (or tried to enter) the dwelling;
  • The resident knew or reasonably believed that the intruder was forcibly entering (or attempting to do so);
  • The intruder was not a member of the family or household; and
  • The resident used force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury.

Put simply, the Castle Doctrine recognizes that all burglaries, home invasions, or similar attempts to enter another person's residence unlawfully create an inherent risk of great bodily injury or death to the occupants. 

Thus, the first part of the average self-defense analysis is considered satisfied as a matter of law, and the degree of threat to the occupants is assumed to be the highest possible, which is great bodily injury or death. 

What Are the Limitations and Restrictions of the Castle Doctrine?

The Castle Doctrine in California applies strictly to residences and does not extend to other properties like places of business or vehicles. Moreover, the law does not apply if the intruder was a law enforcement officer carrying out their duties who had first announced their presence and intention to enter.

Another critical restriction of the Castle Doctrine is that it does not permit residents to pursue an intruder once the immediate threat has been neutralized.

For example, should an intruder flee the property, the resident cannot chase after them and use force without potentially facing legal consequences.

While the Castle Doctrine offers substantial legal protection for individuals defending their homes against intruders, it's important to remember that each case is unique. The specific facts and circumstances surrounding the incident will significantly influence how the law is applied.

How Is This Different from Stand Your Ground?

The Castle Doctrine and "Stand Your Ground" are self-defense principles but differ primarily in scope. The Castle Doctrine permits individuals to use reasonable force, including deadly force when protecting themselves from intruders in their homes.

Castle Doctrine
Castle doctrine and "Stand Your Ground" are self-defense principles, but they differ.

Conversely, the stand-your-ground principle allows for using reasonable force in self-defense anywhere the individual is legally present. While California does not have a specific "stand your ground" law, this right has been affirmed through case law in California courts.

In some cases, the prosecution might be able to overcome the presumption with substantial evidence that the resident was not, in fact, in fear of imminent harm. 

These cases must be assessed case by case, and a jury may determine the issues. Contact our law firm to review all the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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