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California “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ. | Mar 23, 2021

California criminal laws of “stand your ground” are described under Penal Code 198.5 PC. Under the “Castle Doctrine,” you are not required to retreat in a situation where you confront an intruder inside your residence.

Legally, if someone forces their way into your home, or attempting to do so, you can use force against them. California Penal Code 198.5 says:

  • “Any person using force intended to cause great bodily injury or death inside their residence is presumed to have had reasonable fear of injury to self or family when force is used against a person unlawfully entering their home.”
California “Stand Your Ground” Laws
Under the “Castle Doctrine,” you can use force against an intruder in your home.

In other words, there is a legal presumption a resident had reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death, when:

  • an intruder forcibly enters, or unlawfully attempts to come inside their home, and;
  • intruder was not a member of their family;
  • force used against the intruder inside their home was likely to cause great bodily injury or death.

The term “legal presumption” simply means a resident is afforded the benefit of doubt they use force against an intruder inside their home.

In a situation where the intruder is killed inside the home after making unlawful entry, it will typically be considered justifiable homicide.

It should be noted that California's Castle Doctrine doesn't apply if intruder is not inside the residence, but the stand your ground law can be used as a defense for someone who forced their way inside a home.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers are providing a more detailed information below.

Common Law Principle of Self-Defense

The exact wording of the common law principle of self-defense will vary, but it generally states that a person is NOT guilty of a crime under the following circumstances:

  • when a person acts with force against another person;
  • responding to an imminent threat of harm to themselves or another.

The major issue that must be decided by a jury is what exact level of threat justified their response of force. For instance, in the state of California:

  • the force that was used in self-defense, or defending another;
  • must be reasonably proportionate to the threat level.

In other words, the force used must be a reasonable response to the threat you were facing.

What is the “Stand Your Ground” Doctrine?

What is the “Stand Your Ground” Doctrine?
You have the right to defend yourself with no legal duty to retreat.

In simple terms, you have the right to defend yourself under the “stand your ground” doctrine. Do you have a duty to retreat before using force?

Recently, state laws in California don't require a duty to retreat, or making an attempt to retreat, before using force in self-defense.  Under California law:

  • anyone under imminent threat of bodily injury;
  • has no duty to retreat, but;
  • can rather “stand their ground,” and;
  • use a reasonable amount of self-defense.

Further, this principle allows pursuit of the attacker to a point it takes to end the threat of great bodily injury or death.

What is the “Castle Doctrine” in California?

Another law which deals with using self-defense force inside you home. This is called the “castle doctrine” which comes from common law belief that a man's home is his castle.

Under California Penal Code 198.5 PC, it states the following:

  • “Anyone using force likely to cause death or great bodily injury within their residence is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family.”

In other words, the California castle doctrine renders reasonable use of self-defense force in the home is allowed, but unlawful outside of the home.

It's important to note that proportional and reasonable force can be used in response to a threat of harm at any location.

Under the castle doctrine, a legal presumption is created in the following circumstances:

  • intruder enters someone's home without consent, or;
  • they attempt to forcibly enter, and you;
  • know or have a reasonable belief intruder did so, and;
  • used force against intruder likely to cause great bodily injury or death, then;
  • you were reasonable in the belief you were facing an imminent threat of great bodily injury or death from intruder.

What is an Inherent Risk of Great Bodily Injury or Death?

What is an Inherent Risk of Great Bodily Injury or Death?
A home invasion clearly creates inherent risk of great bodily injury or death.

Under California's Castle Doctrine, it clearly states that a burglary or home invasion to make illegal entry into someone's home creates inherent risk of great bodily injury or death to the people inside.

Thus, the first portion of a self-defense argument is met by law and level of threat to the people inside the home is presumed to be at the highest level, either a great bodily injury or death.

So, in response, occupants can legally respond to the threat with self-defense, all the way up to deadly force.

In other words, under the castle doctrine, a California resident would be typically justified to fire a weapon at someone unlawfully entering their residence.

There are situations, however, where a resident could face scrutiny that the level of threat didn't wasn't high enough to justify a deadly reply.

They could also face scrutiny whether they had a reasonable belief they were in actual danger at all simply because of unlawful entry by someone.

Criminal Lawyer for California Self-Defense Arguments

It should be noted the castle doctrine creates a legal presumption, not an absolute hard rule.

It might be possible for a prosecutor to overcome this presumption with solid evidence the resident who used deadly force was not actually in fear of imminent harm.

All self-defense incidents are scrutinized on a case-by-case basis and decided by a jury.

Hedding Law Firm is a top-ranked criminal defense law firm that represents people in all Southern California courts from our office located in Los Angeles County. Contact our office for a free case consultation at (213) 542-0979.

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About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding, ESQ.

Ronald D. Hedding, Esq., is the founding member of the Hedding Law Firm. Mr. Hedding has an extensive well-rounded legal background in the area of Criminal Law. He has worked for the District Attorney's Office, a Superior Court Judge, and as the guiding force behind the Hedding Law Firm. His multi-faceted experience sets Mr. Hedding apart and puts him in an elite group of the best Criminal Defense Attorneys in Southern California.