What the Law Says: Castle Doctrine vs. Stand Your Ground vs. Duty to Retreat

published: March 20, 2018 by: firearmslegal

When it comes to self-defense using firearms, almost all states allow you to defend yourself against an assault that would otherwise leave yourself or someone else seriously injured or dead. But beyond that basic right, there’s a huge difference between what you’re required to do before using deadly force. There are three major doctrines or ideologies at play in our country that require different actions depending on where you live. Let’s look at each ideology, which states use them and how they’ll affect your everyday life.

Castle Doctrine

To a certain extent, castle doctrine is law in most states, but it applies to particular properties. Most states cover the home, but some states will include your vehicle, business or even a hotel room as a defendable property. Castle doctrine provides exceptions to the duty to retreat on protected properties. For example, in Missouri, you would not be required to retreat from an armed robber in your home, but you would be required to retreat if able from an armed robber in a public park.

Stand Your Ground

Stand your ground laws have gone into effect in many states since Florida passed the first one in 2005. Basically, this law means you don’t have to retreat before using deadly force to defend yourself. The states that use this doctrine include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. Stand your ground laws put the burden of proof on the attacker, law enforcement or prosecutor that they must prove that you weren’t acting in self-defense, such as the 2009 Oklahoma case involving pharmacist Jerome Ersland. In this case, the pharmacist would have been protected in shooting the two robbers who were robbing his pharmacy at gunpoint, with one disabled on the floor and Ersland chasing to the door and shooting at the second robber who was fleeing the scene. At that point, the threat was ended. But Ersland then went back past the disabled robber to reload his gun and returned to shoot the disabled robber in the head, killing him. Ersland was charged and convicted of first-degree murder.

Duty to Retreat

States requiring a duty to retreat before using deadly force are on the other side of the coin. In these states, if you have any avenue of retreat available, you must take it before using deadly force unless doing so exposes people under your protection to harm, such as children, a disabled individual or someone unable to retreat with you. States with duty to retreat laws include Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The problem with requiring retreat is that people have different levels of ability. A 22-year-old college student can climb over a chain link fence to escape, while a grandmother may have problems going up a 4″ step into her home. Determining whether the individual can or cannot retreat puts the burden of proof on the defendant and the courts, making the person who was attacked prove they were unable to retreat.

Each state will have different variations of these laws, so it’s vital that you know the laws in your state and any states you are traveling through or visiting. Having a legal protection plan in place will help you avoid the pitfalls of our legal system if you’re forced to defend yourself.