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What is the "Castle Doctrine" and does it apply in Arizona?

January 19, 2010 Castle Doctrine, State Firearms Laws, Use of Force Issues Comments Off

Question:  What is the “Castle Doctrine” and does it apply in Arizona?

Answer: The “Castle Doctrine” or “Defense of Habitation” laws are a legal concept that derive from English Common Law.  Under this concept, one’s place of residence is considered to be a place where a person is protected against illegal trespass and violent attack.  In most states, it provides for the legal right to use deadly force to defend one’s home and any innocent persons inside the home.  It also provides that this same deadly force can be used to defend against an illegal intrusion into the home that may lead to a violent attack.

In Arizona, we do have a “Castle Doctrine”.  It applies to a person’s residence or workplace, which may be either permanent or temporary.  The doctrine would apply not only to your permanent home, but would also apply to a hotel room that you might be temporarily treating as “home”.  In Arizona, the doctrine extends to your vehicle as well, if an attempt is being made to remove you from your vehicle by force.

Some have referred to this doctrine as the “Make My Day Law”.  This reference comes from the 1983 movie “Sudden Impact” and was part of a challenge delivered to a criminal about to be apprehended by Detective Harry Callahan, a character in the movie played by Clint Eastwood.

In general, the following conditions must apply if the Castle Doctrine is to be used in claiming justifiable homicide:

  • The intruder must be attempting to or have made unlawful and forcible entry into an occupied home, business or vehicle.
  • The occupants must have a reasonable belief that the intruder is entering with the intention of committing a felony crime such as burglary.
  • The occupants must have a reasonable belief that they are in danger of serious injury or death at the hands of the intruder.
  • The occupants must be innocent of any provocation and cannot have instigated the intrusion or initiated the event by a threat of deadly force.

Some states have stronger laws supporting a Castle Doctrine, while others have weaker ones.  Arizona has a strong Castle Law and follows the conditions above in applying their law.  Additionally, in Arizona, a person is legally able to “stand their ground” in the face of an attack and is under no obligation to retreat prior to using deadly force in self defense.

Currently Idaho, Illinois, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania and South Dakota have weaker positions on the Castle Doctrine.  A few states have no Castle Doctrine.  Those states include Iowa, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia and Washington, DC.

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Elderly Homeowners, Attempted Burglary and the Castle Doctrine…

Question: My mother is over 65 and in ill health and has been tormented by numerous attempts by someone to either (peep) in her windows; tamper with the windows, etc.  She is thinking of purchasing a firearm for protection since my father, who is 73 and still works, travels away from the home 4 days a week.  I am afraid that if she does get a firearm and someone tries to break into her home she will be so terrified as to shoot and ask questions later.  Please advise.

Answer: It’s a sad commentary, but in many cases the elderly are targeted by criminals since they are generally one of the more weak and potentially helpless members of our community.  A former student of mine just told me about an incident where there was an attempted home invasion at his father’s house.  You mother should certainly take some steps to protect herself.  One thing she may want to consider is purchasing a burglar alarm that she can activate with a panic button remote that she can keep on her person when she is at home.

If she is intent on purchasing a gun, I’d recommend that she get some training with it and consider attending an Arizona Concealed Weapons Permit course, not so that she can carry concealed, but rather so that she has a better understanding of the laws that govern the use of deadly force and when it can justifiably be used.  We see a lot of older men and women in our courses for this reason.

If she did purchase a gun for her own protection, should someone break into her home she would be justified in using the firearm in self defense if the burglar entered her home illegally and she was in reasonable fear of serious injury, sexual assault or being killed.  As far as shooting first and asking questions later, as long as the criminal was inside her home, she would be on pretty firm legal ground.  If they were still outside, there is an argument that could be made that there was no ‘credible’ threat until the criminal entered her home and she was therefore not justified in using lethal force.  One of the reasons for taking the class is to understand under what circumstances she can legally defend herself.

Overall, I’d suggest the burglar alarm route first, but would have no problem with the firearm as long as she had proper training.

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