Castle Doctrine in California


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mtravinski
May 10, 2010, 02:03 PM
My understanding of Cal law is that we have a Castle Doctrine that justifies homicide in the event of forced entry into ones home. The presumption under such circumstances is that the intruder is intent on burglary, murder or great bodily harm.

While this law appears to be pretty solid for the protection of the resident against criminal action, I'm wondering if anyone has any examples or knowledge of it's use during civil action. I don't think California has the civil immunity part of the doctrine, like Colorado has. So one may be found innocent of murder, but possibly get screwed by the estate of the deceased during a civil suit.

Any intel on that? :scrutiny:

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cbrgator
May 10, 2010, 02:22 PM
Not sure exactly. But whether or not there is civil liability... If you feel your life is threatened to the point where deadly force is necessary and justified, are you going to be worrying about civil damages in that situation?

armoredman
May 10, 2010, 02:31 PM
No, but knowing ahead of time may not cause a fatal hesitation. AZ has no civil liability for justified actions.

Zoogster
May 10, 2010, 02:32 PM
It would be an argument in civil court. It would still proceed though, not be dismissed before it started.
This means a jury would make the decision after the case was heard rather than it being immediately dismissed because it had no legal grounds.





So yes you could still be sued. You could win or lose in civil court. Your lawyer would argue why it was not valid and try to get it dismissed, then if that failed argue why you are not liable in court.
But the court would not be likely to throw it and a jury would decide your financial fate.


The court system is pretty good at keeping itself employed.

mtravinski
May 10, 2010, 02:48 PM
Good point cbrgator. Once someone breaks into your home in the middle of the night, I think you best just accept that your life has just drastically and permanently changed. Getting out of the situation with your life and that of your family members would be all that really matters.

Shadow 7D
May 10, 2010, 03:55 PM
Cali had one of the first castle doctrine, just it isn't codified as such, rather it's case law and right to self defense. Remember a friend who was a cop in my hometown in cali talking about it.

billwiese
May 10, 2010, 04:38 PM
Shadow_7D above is incorrect; this is the general result of listening to cops.

CA's 'castle doctrine' is not case law: a reasonably implementation is codified in 198.5PC et seq.





Bill Wiese
San Jose

Jon_Snow
May 10, 2010, 05:46 PM
California castle doctrine in a nutshell:

You are automatically considered to be in reasonable fear for your life when defending yourself against an intruder if:
1) Your are in your own home or residence
2) The intruder is not a member of your household or someone else who has a reason to be there (landlord, etc.)
3) The intruder entered your residence illegally
4) Your have reason to believe the intruder entered your residence illegally

I would think that between 2 and 3 you have 4 covered, but IANAL.

You can still be prosecuted, but the jury will be instructed to acquit if you can prove the above 4 things.

If acquitted for any shooting be reason of self-defense, you are free from civil liability for the results of the shoot. The bad guy/family members can file a suit against you, but the judge SHOULD throw it out.

My opinion:
On paper, CA isn't as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. In practice I think the high number of anti-gunners in the more urban DA's offices means there's a decent chance that the DA will prosecute a case they don't think they can win just to make your life hell.

mtravinski
May 10, 2010, 06:34 PM
Thanks Bill. I saw your earlier response to a similar question on calguns.net. Do you happen to have any references of cases that were tried, either civil or criminal. Most of the news on google et al, has the exciting "home invasion thwarted!" part, but it's much harder to find out what happened to the "thwarter".

Thanks!

Buck Snort
May 10, 2010, 07:31 PM
Cali had one of the first castle doctrine, just it isn't codified as such, rather it's case law and right to self defense. Remember a friend who was a cop in my hometown in cali talking about it.
There IS a law on the books here in the PRC (I think its in the CA penal code section 198.5, or thereabouts) which states that when somebody, other than an immediate family member, forcibly enters a domicile the occupants are LEGALLY PRESUMED to be in fear of losing their lives or suffering great bodily harm. After that, the fruitcakes take over.

Zoogster
May 10, 2010, 09:22 PM
Yes California makes the automatic presumption that you had reasonable fear of great bodily injury or death.
Which makes the action not criminal.

California castle doctrine in a nutshell:

You are automatically considered to be in reasonable fear for your life when defending yourself against an intruder if:
1) Your are in your own home or residence
2) The intruder is not a member of your household or someone else who has a reason to be there (landlord, etc.)
3) The intruder entered your residence illegally
4) Your have reason to believe the intruder entered your residence illegally

That is close but not exactly correct, and close paraphrasing can be dangerous.
The law specifically says
"unlawful and forcible entry". Not just illegal entry. A good argument for locking your door.
If they walked in your front door unwelcome it could be unwelcome or even unlawful, but not a forced entry.
If they go through the neighborhood trying doorknobs and find yours unlocked, it could be illegal and can meet the definition of burglary (based on intent) or criminal trespass in California, but is not a forced entry.
If they break a window, tear a screen, break a door, pick a lock, or do any type of similar thing to make entry then it is a forced entry.
If you answer the door and they force their way in it is also a forced entry, but you would start from a more difficult position of proof.


An important but slight legal distinction. "Forced entry" not just illegal.
If you leave your door unlocked and someone even a burglar enters your home you may not have the automatic presumption on your side under the law.
You are still perfectly capable of legally using self defense, but the automatic presumption it was proper could no longer be on your side. Meaning a greater burden of proof that it was self defense.

(They also cannot be A. a member of the family, or B. a member of the household.
So if your relative goes crazy and breaks down your door intent on harming you the automatic presumption is not there in your favor.
Which could be important in many types of domestic issues, even with people that do not live at the residence but are a member of the family.)

carebear
May 10, 2010, 09:45 PM
I haven't looked at the case law but, given the context and actual wording of the statute (defending self, family or member of household), someone who doesn't actually regularly live in your home is probably not a "member of the family or household" for the purposes of statute, regardless of other familial relation.

That text sure seems to be designed to cover only the family that actually lives there and any non-blood relations that are guests or live there as part of the household; life partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, au pair etc.

At least that's what I'd argue if a client had to kill their estranged brother who lived across town.

If a family member doesn't actually live there what right do they have to be there that a stranger doesn't? To tie it to a related statute, it's not like family aren't burglarizing your home per statute if they enter without permission when you aren't there. Blood relation doesn't matter, it's right to be there.

Similarly, if you have a domestic restraining order barring someone who usually lives there from the premises I would argue (though I'm sure it's already covered in case law) that they "done lost their household privileges" for the purposes of the statute regardless of relation.

But I'm not a lawyer yet.

Sir Aardvark
May 10, 2010, 11:00 PM
My understanding of California State law is that if you have a finding of "Justifiable Homicide" then that releases you from any Civil liability, and you cannot be further sued.

If you are simply found "not guilty" of Homicide (notice that there is no mention of "Justifiable Homicide" here), then you can still be found "guilty" in a civil action.

Perhaps a lawyerly type would like to step in and clarify this?...

miestro_jerry
May 11, 2010, 11:55 AM
I don't know that much about California other than it is not a gun friendly state.

I live in Ohio, way out in the country, we effectively have no law enforcement. Our sheriff has been on the tube, as well as a couple of other sheriffs telling us that we have the Castle Doctrine and that we have the right to shoot or club or what ever people invading our homes, threatening or causing injury to our selves or our family. That is not everything, but a great deal of the meaning of the law. If the county prodecutor, who has been on TV also about this subject, find that the citizen acted within the law, the situation won't go before the judge.

One police officer in a local town that does not have evening and weekend police coverage, that didn't go on TV, said to shoot them, leave the body on the ground and see if nature will take care of the problem.

It's funny, I still pay my taxes, my taxes actually have increased and I am getting less and less services from my county government.

Jerry

Jon_Snow
May 11, 2010, 01:39 PM
Zoog,

Thanks for catching that. You are correct.

Zoogster
May 11, 2010, 02:53 PM
Zoog,

Thanks for catching that. You are correct.

Also on that note someone who is allowed entry by someone in the home would also remove the automatic presumption. Whether they are let in by an adult or the 5 year old child who answers the door.

For example we have criminals every year reported by the news locally who pretend to be part of some utility, or LEO, etc to gain entry to homes.
If they are let in by a resident, and then they proceed to become either a threat, or a thief and run off with valuables that automatic presumption would not exist.

The same with a wandering salesman allowed entry, or Jehova's witnesses or anyone claiming to be either.
If someone is let in the home there is no forced entry, so if they prove to be a danger at any point after then you would still be held to the regular burden of proof for self defense, the same as out in public.

Another common problem could be a garage door left open. If there is open access to the home from the garage and you left the garage open by accident then that reasonable presumption would no longer exist as there was no forced entry because the criminal could just walk right in.

Manco
May 11, 2010, 05:42 PM
On paper, CA isn't as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. In practice I think the high number of anti-gunners in the more urban DA's offices means there's a decent chance that the DA will prosecute a case they don't think they can win just to make your life hell.

I've seen that happen. They never win, but sometimes like to drag people through the mud to make some stupid point or other. Usually nothing bad happens in a legal sense if you kill a burglar, but if he survives then there almost certainly will be civil lawsuits to contend with.

My understanding of California State law is that if you have a finding of "Justifiable Homicide" then that releases you from any Civil liability, and you cannot be further sued.

If you are simply found "not guilty" of Homicide (notice that there is no mention of "Justifiable Homicide" here), then you can still be found "guilty" in a civil action.

Perhaps a lawyerly type would like to step in and clarify this?...

I'm not a lawyer, but from my understanding (correct me if I'm wrong) this is why it is better for you if the perp dies, since it will free you from any civil liabilities, provided that the homicide was justifiable (not hard to prove if he forcibly broke into your house, in accordance with the Castle Doctrine). Now, I'm NOT advocating anything illegal and morally reprehensible such as executing somebody who has given up, which is certainly not justifiable homicide, but strangely enough California law seems to promote killing perps rather than allowing them to live, and it's all too easy to keep shooting a couple of times after they've been stopped (some people can't help it anyway, even cops in some cases). Obviously many issues could be avoided if the Castle law were changed to protect those who acted justifiably in self-defense in general from civil lawsuits, but this is an early example of such a law and the legislators didn't think to make such a provision, I guess.

That's how it was described to me (one cop even told me to drag the bad guy's body into my house if I was forced to shoot him at my doorway :eek: in order to avoid a gray area of the penal code), and everything I've read seems to confirm it, but I'm more than willing to listen if somebody knows better and can set all of us straight on these matters.

I don't know that much about California other than it is not a gun friendly state.

California might not be gun-friendly anymore, but having been part of the Old West it has a long and full case history of self-defense using firearms, which would make it really hard, I would think, to outlaw such actions entirely, and juries are generally pretty friendly to self-defense when involved. As others have said, it's not as bad in some ways as people in more gun-friendly states may be led to believe.

Jon_Snow
May 11, 2010, 05:56 PM
My understanding of California State law is that if you have a finding of "Justifiable Homicide" then that releases you from any Civil liability, and you cannot be further sued.

If you are simply found "not guilty" of Homicide (notice that there is no mention of "Justifiable Homicide" here), then you can still be found "guilty" in a civil action.

That is true, BUT, the likelyhood of you being found 'not guilty' in a self-defense shooting is nil. Being found not guilty means the jury didn't think you shot the BG (well, didn't think you did beyond a reasonable doubt). In most self-defense scenarios, that's pretty unlikely. If you're charged, your options are to basically say: 1) "I didn't do it" or 2) "I did it, but I had to to defend myself or someone else". If you pick option 1 then the jury has to decide if you did it or not, justification doesn't play into it. If you pick option 2, you are confessing to the crime and the jury has to decide if it was justified. In option 2, called an 'affirmative defense', it is implausible that the jury would find you simply 'not guilty' because you have confessed.

(one cop even told me to drag the bad guy's body into my house if I was forced to shoot him at my doorway in order to avoid a gray area of the penal code)

This is HORRIBLE advice and the prosecutor will come down on you HARD for tampering with the scene of a crime. You will be accused of trying to make it look like a self-defense shooting when it wasn't.

carebear
May 11, 2010, 06:01 PM
Also on that note someone who is allowed entry by someone in the home would also remove the automatic presumption. Whether they are let in by an adult or the 5 year old child who answers the door.

Thus adding a second reason to be careful about who is let into your home.

The first reason being, of course, vampires. :evil:

Would a five year old child have the authority to actually authorize entry in the legal sense? They aren't of the age of majority, cannot contract and a pile of other kinds of consent, nor do they have title to the home.

Would the family dog nosing open the door, thus allowing someone to walk in, remove the presumption?

ArmedBear
May 11, 2010, 06:08 PM
In California, you have to be especially careful to identify someone who is forcibly entering your home.

Chances are, it's the Sheriff come to throw you out because the home was foreclosed.

Manco
May 11, 2010, 07:40 PM
This is HORRIBLE advice and the prosecutor will come down on you HARD for tampering with the scene of a crime. You will be accused of trying to make it look like a self-defense shooting when it wasn't.

Yes, I know that, but thanks for telling me (and the rest of the forum) in any case. I was shocked to hear a cop, of all people, say such a thing without any clear indication that it was in jest. I didn't pursue the issue any further at that point. Obviously tampering with evidence is totally out of the question if one wishes to stay out of jail--do so, and if you hadn't committed a crime (that wasn't justified) up till that point, then congratulations, you did just now! :uhoh:

Zoogster
May 12, 2010, 01:20 AM
I haven't looked at the case law but, given the context and actual wording of the statute (defending self, family or member of household), someone who doesn't actually regularly live in your home is probably not a "member of the family or household" for the purposes of statute, regardless of other familial relation.

That text sure seems to be designed to cover only the family that actually lives there and any non-blood relations that are guests or live there as part of the household; life partner, boyfriend/girlfriend, au pair etc.

At least that's what I'd argue if a client had to kill their estranged brother who lived across town.

Yes I saw that as well. But you would be relying on a discretionary interpretation in your favor in court, or setting new case law in an appeal creating that clarification, which is far from certain.
The law specifically says family, and a prosecutor could just as easily argue the opposite. That the law is addressing "family" which means exactly that, family. Or maybe even concede it means immediate family if that angle works in their favor.

When citing the statute to others without contrary or clarifying case law it is responsible to cite it with the assumption it means exactly what it says. Not that it may mean something less broad in scope that it states because I presume to know the spirit of the law intends for less than the letter of the law states. The spirit of the law is what the court determines it is, which may not be what I may think it should be. If in court a lawyer could try to lead them in that direction and it could be part of a good defense, but the result is an uncertainty.
It states family, so it means family, unless someone gets the higher court to state it means relatives living in the home and not all "family".
It is certainly a reasonable interpretation a court could find is consistent with the spirit of the law at a later date, but they could also find it means all family, or immediate family, or some other clarification, because the wording of the law allows for all such conclusions.
One cannot presume to know the likely results of such case law.


Would a five year old child have the authority to actually authorize entry in the legal sense? They aren't of the age of majority, cannot contract and a pile of other kinds of consent, nor do they have title to the home.

Yes they would, not because they are making some sort of legal decision, but because they are removing the requirement of a "forceful entry".
There is no forceful entry if someone is let in the home. No matter what lie they told to get in or why they were allowed inside.
Just as the child forgetting the door open would accomplish the same thing. Remove the need for a criminal to make a "forceful entry" to enter the home.




As far as the dog: Opening a door in a standard manner is unlikely to be considered a forceful entry. So unless the dog unlocks the door it won't make a difference. A door left partially open or fully open is not likely to be defined as forceful entry when a criminal enters through it.

fastbolt
May 12, 2010, 03:26 AM
The CA Office of the Attorney General website is here: http://caag.state.ca.us/firearms/

On that page you can view and download the .pdf file titled California Firearms Laws Summary Booklet: http://ag.ca.gov/firearms/forms/pdf/Cfl2007.pdf (Left hand column under Firearms)

If you scroll to page 26 you can start reading the Use of Firearms in defense of Life and Property. Starting part way down on page 27 you can find the following info ...

"Self-Defense Against Assault
It is lawful for a person being assaulted to defend himself or herself from attack if he or she has reasonable grounds for believing, and does in fact believe, that he or she will suffer bodily injury. In doing so, he or she may use such force, up to deadly force, as a reasonable person in the same or
similar circumstances would believe necessary to prevent great bodily injury or death. An assault with fists does not justify use of a deadly weapon in self-defense unless the person being assaulted believes, and a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances would also believe, that the
assault is likely to inflict great bodily injury.

It is lawful for a person who has grounds for believing, and does in fact believe, that great bodily injury is about to be inflicted upon another to protect the victim from attack. In so doing, the person may use such force as reasonably necessary to prevent the injury. Deadly force is only considered reasonable to prevent great bodily injury or death.

NOTE: The use of excessive force to counter an assault may result in civil or criminal penalties.

Protecting One’s Home

A person may defend his or her home against anyone who attempts to enter in a violent manner intending violence to any person in the home. The amount of force that may be used in resisting such entry is limited to that which would appear necessary to a reasonable person in the same or similar circumstances to resist the violent entry. One is not bound to retreat, even though a retreat might safely be made. One may resist force with force, increasing it in proportion to the intruder’s persistence and violence, if the circumstances apparent to the occupant would cause a reasonable person in the same or similar situation to fear for his or her safety.

The occupant may use a firearm when resisting the intruder’s attempt to commit a forcible and life-threatening crime against anyone in the home provided that a reasonable person in the same or similar situation would believe that (a) the intruder intends to commit a forcible and life-threatening crime; (b) there is imminent danger of such crime being accomplished; and (c) the occupant acts under the belief that use of a firearm is necessary to save himself or herself or another from death or great bodily injury. Murder, mayhem, rape, and robbery are examples of forcible and life-threatening crimes.

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 had occurred. Great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury. (Penal Code 198.5.)

NOTE: If the presumption is rebutted by contrary evidence, the occupant may be criminally liable for an unlawful assault or homicide."

You can read the language of PC 198.5 by searching for the code section under the Penal Code at this website:
http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html where you'll end up at this page and can scroll down to the 198.5 section: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?WAISdocID=65016514902+6+0+0&WAISaction=retrieve

There's quite a bit of interesting information available on this website, and the booklet about the firearms laws ought to be of interest to someone living in (or visiting) the state, although it obviously isn't intended as 'legal advice'. You may wish to discuss this with an attorney who has experience practicing law CA for an opinion about specific areas of the law and how they may be applied, as well as any case law decisions which might be applicable to circumstances which may be of concern to you. This will give you a chance to have access to legal advice from someone licensed to practice law, instead of surfing the internet and asking for opinions from anonymous persons on internet firearms forums.

carebear
May 12, 2010, 05:17 AM
Zoog,

Fair enough. Though I wasn't trying to "give legal advice" to the OP, I had digressed to merely discussing the law in and of itself.

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