The Castle Doctrine has been around for a long time — literally since the time of castles. Beginning as a part of English Common Law, it continued as an accepted legal precept after America won its independence from Great Britain.

“For a man’s home is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge.”—Sir Edward Coke, English Jurist, The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628

Castle Doctrine declared that people have a right to be secure in their homes against all comers. This concept was also enshrined in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause…”

Castle Doctrine first appeared specific to state and local laws in 1985 in the once-conservative state of Colorado. Colorado’s “make my day” law shielded people from criminal and civil liability for using any force against a home invader. This law — and similar laws passed in many states — countered the legal concept of duty to retreat.

Dangerous Duty

The duty to retreat means that if someone breaks into your home, you must withdraw to the farthest point possible from the intruder before you can consider deadly force. For example, under duty to retreat, you cannot confront an intruder at the point of entry — not even to prevent access to the interior of your home and the rest of your family. Castle Doctrine has replaced duty to retreat in nearly every state.

Today, “stand your ground” laws expand upon Castle Doctrine to include defending yourself in public. So-called “stand your ground” eliminates duty-to-retreat requirements from criminal attacks in public, allowing you to use deadly force when necessary.

Not a License to Kill

Neither “stand your ground” nor Castle Doctrine should determine the tactics that you use to defend yourself. In many cases, it may be best that you do retreat to the farthest point in your house. Stand between your family and the threat and let the police clear your home. In public, especially, retreating from danger with your family may be more tactically sound than holding your initial position.

While Castle Doctrine has been around for some 337 years now, it has multiple interpretations and variations. Some locales choose to ignore it entirely. Make sure you understand the laws in your own state as well as those of other jurisdictions to which you travel while armed. Never consider these laws as something that automatically makes the use of deadly force your first option. Deadly force should always be an absolute last resort.