Castle Doctrine Law – Alabama

Castle doctrine is a crucial concept in American self-defense law, one that states that an occupant of a home, business or other property has a right to defend themselves against someone who would forcibly enter in order to attack the occupants, or commit a crime within the structure.

Thankfully, most states have castle doctrine statutes in force under the law, either on the books or enacted by way of jury instructions or some other method.

flag of Alabama

Alabama has one of the best castle doctrine laws to be found anywhere, and is staunchly pro-citizen in word and interpretation. That being said, self-defense is still serious business, and there are restrictions regarding this law even in Alabama.

Read on to learn what you need to know about castle doctrine law in Alabama and be sure to check out the end of the article for the specific statutes.

Fast Facts

  • Alabama justifies the use of lethal force in self-defense under castle doctrine so long as someone is occupying their home, dwelling, place of business or vehicle.
  • The use of lethal force in defense under the circumstances is presumed to be necessary so long as the intruder is attempting to enter unlawfully and forcibly without justification. See restrictions below.
  • Under Alabama’s castle doctrine defenders have no obligation to retreat so long as the use of force is justified.
  • Lethal force is also permitted under these same circumstances if someone has entered the dwelling or other structure unlawfully without force if they are committing some other violent crime while inside.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in Alabama

Alabama law justifies the use of lethal force in self-defense under what is popularly known as the castle doctrine so long as the occupant of any home, temporary dwelling or lodging, place of business or vehicle does so in response to an Intruders forcible and unlawful entry that is occurring or had immediately occurred.

Under these circumstances the law presumes that the person using deadly physical force and self-defense is justified.

Although these statutes broadly cover typical instances of home invasion and other crimes committed against the occupants of structures, the law further clarifies that defensive lethal force maybe utilized against any intruder or person who is attempting to enter any such mentioned structure or conveyance for the purposes of committing any other forcible felony.

In short, so long as you are the occupant of your own home, temporary dwelling or lodging place, place of business or vehicle and you are either attacked within any of these places or someone is attempting to forcibly enter any such place unlawfully you are justified in using lethal force to protect yourself or others within.

Restrictions

There are several notable restrictions to Alabama’s castle doctrine law, and the most notably it states throughout that an intruder must be entering or attempting to enter forcibly and unlawfully.

If an intruder enters unlawfully, but not forcibly, the presumption that the defender is acting reasonably should they use force does not apply; they must be able to articulate a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury.

In such a case, the defender would have to articulate a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury at the hands of the intruder, or demonstrate that they were about to commit some forcible felony against themselves or some other occupant of the structure or vehicle.

This means that one should not leave doors and windows unlocked or wide open, for obvious reasons.

Additionally, one may not claim any protection under castle doctrine should they use force, including lethal force, against any agent of the state who is lawfully doing their duty by entering any such structure or against any person who has a legal, lawful right to occupy the same structure or vehicle, or is entering any structure or vehicle for the purposes of taking right and lawful custody of some other person or minor therein.

Make sure you read through the attached state statutes carefully to understand the extent of these restrictions.

You don’t need me to tell you that you are virtually never, ever justified in using force against a police officer or some other agent of a local or state agency, but this might be a sticking point when one is dealing with a custody issue or in such cases where someone has legal guardianship over a family member and the matter is contested.

Assessment

Alabama generally has a strong and clearly worded castle doctrine statute on the books.

So long as one is occupying their home, temporary dwelling, place of business, or any vehicle they may use lethal force and self-defense against a person who is attempting to forcibly and unlawfully enter the same structure or is attempting to commit any forcible felony against the occupants.

Relevant Alabama Castle Doctrine Statutes

Criminal Code 13A-3-23

(a) A person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he or she may use a degree of force which he or she reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose. A person may use deadly physical force, and is legally presumed to be justified in using deadly physical force in self-defense or the defense of another person pursuant to subdivision (5), if the person reasonably believes that another person is:

(1) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force.

(2) Using or about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling while committing or attempting to commit a burglary of such dwelling.

(3) Committing or about to commit a kidnapping in any degree, assault in the first or second degree, burglary in any degree, robbery in any degree, forcible rape, or forcible sodomy.

(4) Using or about to use physical force against an owner, employee, or other person authorized to be on business property when the business is closed to the public while committing or attempting to commit a crime involving death, serious physical injury, robbery, kidnapping, rape, sodomy, or a crime of a sexual nature involving a child under the age of 12.

(5) In the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcefully entered, a dwelling, residence, business property, or occupied vehicle, or federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is in the process of sabotaging or attempting to sabotage a federally licensed nuclear power facility, or is attempting to remove, or has forcefully removed, a person against his or her will from any dwelling, residence, business property, or occupied vehicle when the person has a legal right to be there, and provided that the person using the deadly physical force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring.  The legal presumption that a person using deadly physical force is justified to do so pursuant to this subdivision does not apply if:

a. The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, residence, or vehicle, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person;

b. The person sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the person against whom the defensive force is used;

c. The person who uses defensive force is engaged in an unlawful activity or is using the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle to further an unlawful activity;  or

d. The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his or her official duties.

(b) A person who is justified under subsection (a) in using physical force, including deadly physical force, and who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.

(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (a), a person is not justified in using physical force if:

(1) With intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, he or she provoked the use of unlawful physical force by such other person.

(2) He or she was the initial aggressor, except that his or her use of physical force upon another person under the circumstances is justifiable if he or she withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to the other person his or her intent to do so, but the latter person nevertheless continues or threatens the use of unlawful physical force.

(3) The physical force involved was the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law.

(d)(1) A person who uses force, including deadly physical force, as justified and permitted in this section is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of such force, unless the force was determined to be unlawful.

(2) Prior to the commencement of a trial in a case in which a defense is claimed under this section, the court having jurisdiction over the case, upon motion of the defendant, shall conduct a pretrial hearing to determine whether force, including deadly force, used by the defendant was justified or whether it was unlawful under this section.  During any pretrial hearing to determine immunity, the defendant must show by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is immune from criminal prosecution.

(3) If, after a pretrial hearing under subdivision (2), the court concludes that the defendant has proven by a preponderance of the evidence that force, including deadly force, was justified, the court shall enter an order finding the defendant immune from criminal prosecution and dismissing the criminal charges.

(4) If the defendant does not meet his or her burden of proving immunity at the pre-trial hearing, he or she may continue to pursue the defense of self-defense or defense of another person at trial.  Once the issue of self-defense or defense of another person has been raised by the defendant, the state continues to bear the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of the charged conduct.

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