The Castle Doctrine

I am going to preface this discussion by reminding you that I am not an attorney. What you see in this posting is my view of the law from a layman’s point of view.

Let’s have a short discussion about the Castle Doctrine. How many of you know what the Castle Doctrine is? Do you know how it affects you? Well, let’s start with a bit of history. The name “Castle Doctrine” actually comes out of English common law as set down by Sir Edward Coke in his “The Institutes of the Laws of England,” 1628. In Institutes, Coke stated, “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium (and each man’s home is his safest refuge).”

But is that the first expression of the Castle Doctrine? No, not by a long-shot. While Moses was still leading the children of Israel around the desert, God set down a number of laws for the Israelites to follow, not just the Ten Commandments. Looking in Exodus 22:2, God said “If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account.” Through the ages the concept of a man’s home being inviolate has continued.

Today, the Castle Doctrine takes some form in almost every state; some states call it the Castle Doctrine, some, Stand Your Ground, and in Colorado we call it the “Make My Day Law, in reference to a Dirty Harry movie.

Let’s look at the provisions of the Make My Day Law and see what it does for the citizen and what it does not do for the citizen. First, let’s see what it does not do. This is a much shorter subject. It may not be invoked outside an occupied dwelling; not your car, your church, or your place of business. See, I told you it would be short.

What conditions must exist to be able to invoke the Make My Day Law? There are four conditions that must be met:

  1. It can only be invoked with respect to an occupied dwelling. That word “dwelling” is the important part. Someone must be living there.
  2. An illegal or uninvited entry must have been made.
  3. The occupant of the dwelling must reasonably believe that another crime (just entering uninvited constitutes the initial crime) has been or is about to be committed. This crime may be against a person or property.
  4. The occupant reasonably believes that some amount of force, no matter how slight has been or will be committed against the occupant.

Assuming all of the above conditions have been met, what can the occupant do under this law? CRS 18-1-704 states “any occupant of a dwelling is justified in using any degree of physical force, including deadly physical force, against another person when that other person has” satisfied the previous conditions.

Does this mean that the occupant can pull out their thermonuclear transmogrifier and blow the intruder into the next dimension? Well, maybe and maybe not. Looking at some possible scenarios; what about the Avon lady who comes into your attached garage while you are under your car changing the oil? She taps you on the foot for attention. Obviously, this probably does not rise to the level of invoking the Make My Day Law, no matter what you think about Avon. What about the bad guy who has just lifted your brand new 85-inch curve TV and is headed out the door? Has he done anything physically to you? Probably not. Defending yourself to the authorities in this case with the bad guy laying just inside (or outside) your back door with a bullet in his back might be a hard sell. Looking at one other case, you hear your TV going and come out of your bedroom to find some stranger sitting on the couch watching said TV. He is obviously intoxicated and wandered into the wrong house. Obviously, you want to be very cautious in this situation, but this may, or may not rise to Make My Day criteria.

If you are forced to use deadly force against an intruder and it is determined by either the district attorney or a judge that it does satisfy the criteria for Make My Day, you will be immune from prosecution, criminally, and civilly, forever, for this situation.

The bottom line here is that just because you see someone in your home uninvited, it may not be appropriate to use deadly force, it depends…. Every situation is different and requires analysis. Of course, if you see some lumbering hulk coming down your hall in the middle of the night, this analysis may take about a half second to complete.

Every pistol student at Falcon Personal Security receives an hour and a half to two-hour lesson/discussion on the two Colorado laws that cover self-defense.

One comment:

  1. Good report. I am wondering about the immune civil from prosecution forever but, I have not read CRS 18-1-704. Thanks Dan.

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