Home invasion is a terrifying prospect, but it’s something we must all consider. If the worst were to occur, what are your rights? Does the law require you to flee? Legally, how can you protect your family and possessions? Can you shoot a home invader?
The short answer: Laws vary by state, so you’ll have to dig into specific laws for where you live. But here’s an overview:
The Right to Stand Your Ground
Stand-your-ground laws grant you the right to protect and/or defend your life and limb against any real or perceived threat. Strip away the legalese, and what this means is that you have the right to forcibly defend yourself, and are not required by law to retreat – hence, the nickname, “stand your ground.”
States that currently have stand-your-ground laws on the books: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Which brings us to,
Your Home is Your Castle
You’ve heard the expression, but did you know that the law really does view your home as your castle? A specific application of stand-your-ground law, the Castle Doctrine or Castle Law grants citizens the legal right to defend their homes (and in some cases, their vehicles and workplaces). Like Stand Your Ground laws, the Castle Doctrine states that a person has no duty to retreat when his/her home is attacked.
Specific laws vary by state, although most states have some sort of Castle Doctrine in place. (Check your state’s laws.)
So What Does This All Mean?
The long and the short of it is that, if you live in a state that applies the Castle Doctrine, you are legally protected against illegal trespassing and violent attack. And that means that, if you experience a home invasion, you are allowed to defend your life, your home, and your possessions. With “deadly force”, if necessary.
Here’s what you should know:
Again, laws vary by state, but the following considerations are common throughout most states with the Castle Doctrine.
- Home invasion is defined as unlawful entry: The Castle Doctrine applies only to unlawful entry. For example, a burglar breaking into your home is considered unlawful entry; a police officer entering your home to uphold the law is considered lawful entry.
- You must believe you are in danger: In order for the Castle Doctrine to hold, and to be able to forcibly defend your home, you must believe that an intruder intends to inflict serious bodily harm (or death) on you or another occupant.
- You must believe the intruder intends to commit a felony: You must have reasonable reason to believe than an intruder intends to commit a felony, such as burglary or arson. (This aspect of the Castle Doctrine is intended to prevent instigated break-ins, as a means to establish legal grounds for deadly force.)
- You may have a duty to retreat: Depending on your state, you may be required to attempt exit before defending yourself with deadly force.
- You must be legal: You must be in your home legally. You cannot be harboring a fugitive, or be a fugitive yourself. You cannot use deadly force against an officer of the law or an officer of the peace, if that officer is performing a legal duty.