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

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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