Castle Doctrine Law – California

California is not known as a particularly gun- or self defense-friendly state, and it might surprise some readers to discover the California actually has a fairly robust provision that provides for the use of lethal force in self-defense, including a de facto castle doctrine in operation, through the use of jury instructions.

flag of California
flag of California

In essence, if a person uses the minimum level of lethal force necessary to prevent the use of force against themselves or someone else and they are in their home, they are presumed to have acted with a reasonable fear of the same.

And the rest of this article we will give you all the info you need to know about California’s castle doctrine equivalent jury instructions and have included said instructions at the end for your review.

Fast Facts

  • California’s castle doctrine, such as it is, is provided by way of jury instructions. Meaning, a jury at trial will be instructed to render their verdict a certain way according to the facts and evidence of a case.
  • According to those jury instructions, a person who is defending their home against anyone who is attempting to enter in a forceful, riotous or tumultuous manner will be presumed to be acting under a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury on behalf of themselves or another occupant of the home.
  • In any such case, a person acting accordingly in defense of themselves or someone else has no obligation to retreat before resorting to the use of lethal force under those circumstances.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in California

Under California law and specific jury instructions, a person who is occupying their home or any other permanent or temporary logic where they have a right to legally, lawfully be may use lethal force in self-defense against anyone who is attempting to commit a forcible felony or other atrocious crime or is in the process of entering or attempting to enter the dwelling in a violent, riotous or tumultuous manner.

These jury instructions specifically state that a person has no obligation to retreat and is presumed to be acting under a fear of death or great bodily injury on their own behalf or behalf of another person in the dwelling in such circumstances.

Restrictions

Compared to most other states, California’s de facto castle doctrine is achieved through the use of jury instructions. This means that the jury will be issued specific instructions telling them to render their verdict according to certain facts and evidence of the case.

This case, if you are wondering, is the case that you or some other poor defender will be in for murder or attempted murder after you use lethal force to defend yourself.

As we all know, juries are fickle and anything if reasonable or reliable, and depending on where you are in the state of California these jury instructions might or might not save you from a lengthy prison term.

As always, your best bet is to avoid using force if there’s any way whatsoever to reasonably do so while protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Assessment

In what is sure to be a surprise to some readers California has an operational castle doctrine achieved through the use of jury instructions.

So long as a person is otherwise acting lawfully they may use lethal force and self-defense against anyone who is attempting to forcibly enter they’re dwelling or harm or kill themselves or someone inside.

Relevant California Castle Doctrine Statutes

Jury instructions taken from Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions, CALCRIM 2020, 1, Series 100–1800

(…)

B. JUSTIFICATIONS AND EXCUSES

505. Justifiable Homicide: Self-Defense or Defense of Another

The defendant is not guilty of (murder/ [or] manslaughter/ attempted murder/ [or] attempted voluntary manslaughter) if (he/she) was justified in (killing/attempting to kill) someone in (self-defense/ [or] defense of another). The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if

1. The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] <insert name or description of third party>) was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being (raped/maimed/robbed/ <insert other forcible and atrocious crime>)];

2. The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger;

AND

3. The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger. Belief in future harm is not sufficient, no matter how great or how likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed there was imminent danger of death or great bodily injury to (himself/herself/ [or] someone else). Defendant’s belief must have been reasonable and (he/she) must have acted only because of that belief. The defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the defendant used more force than was reasonable, the [attempted] killing was not justified.

When deciding whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed. If the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, the danger does not need to have actually existed. [The defendant’s belief that (he/she/ [or] someone else) was threatened may be reasonable even if (he/she) relied on information that was not true. However, the defendant must actually and reasonably have believed that the information was true.] [If you find that <insert name of decedent/victim> threatened or harmed the defendant [or others] in the past, you may consider that information in deciding whether the defendant’s conduct and beliefs were reasonable.]

[If you find that the defendant knew that <insert name of decedent/victim> had threatened or harmed others in the past, you may consider that information in deciding whether the defendant’s conduct and beliefs were reasonable.] [Someone who has been threatened or harmed by a person in the past, is justified in acting more quickly or taking greater self-defense measures against that person.] [If you find that the defendant received a threat from someone else that (he/she) reasonably associated with <insert name of decedent/victim>, you may consider that threat in deciding whether the defendant was justified in acting in (self-defense/ [or] defense of another).]

[A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury/ <insert forcible and atrocious crime>) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.]

[Great bodily injury means significant or substantial physical injury. It is

an injury that is greater than minor or moderate harm.] The People have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the [attempted] killing was not justified. If the People have not met this burden, you must find the defendant not guilty of (murder/ [or] manslaughter/ attempted murder/ [or] attempted voluntary manslaughter).

506. Justifiable Homicide: Defending Against Harm to Person Within Home or on Property

The defendant is not guilty of (murder/ [or] manslaughter/ attempted murder/ [or] attempted voluntary manslaughter) if (he/she) (killed/attempted to kill) to defend (himself/herself) [or any other person] in the defendant’s home. Such (a/an) [attempted] killing is justified, and therefore not unlawful, if:

1. The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she) was defending a home against <insert name of decedent>, who (intended to or tried to commit ___________ <insert forcible and atrocious crime>/ [or] violently[[,] [or] riotously[,]/ [or] tumultuously] tried to enter that home intending to commit an act of violence against someone inside);

2. The defendant reasonably believed that the danger was imminent;

3. The defendant reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger;

AND

4. The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger. Belief in future harm is not sufficient, no matter how great or how likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed there was imminent danger of violence to (himself/herself/ [or] someone else). Defendant’s belief must have been reasonable and (he/she) must have acted only because of that belief. The defendant is only entitled to use

that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the defendant used more force than was reasonable, then the [attempted] killing was not justified.

When deciding whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed. If the defendant’s beliefs

were reasonable, the danger does not need to have actually existed.

[A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/bodily injury/ <insert forcible and atrocious crime>) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.]

The People have the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the [attempted] killing was not justified. If the People have not met this burden, you must find the defendant not guilty of [attempted] (murder/ [or] manslaughter).


Statutes taken from California Penal Code Part 1, Chapter 8, Title 1- HOMICIDE

187.

(a) Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought.

(b) This section shall not apply to any person who commits an act that results in the death of a fetus if any of the following apply:

(1) The act complied with the Therapeutic Abortion Act, Article 2 (commencing with Section 123400) of Chapter 2 of Part 2 of Division 106 of the Health and Safety Code.

(2) The act was committed by a holder of a physician’s and surgeon’s certificate, as defined in the Business and Professions Code, in a case where, to a medical certainty, the result of childbirth would be death of the mother of the fetus or where her death from childbirth, although not medically certain, would be substantially certain or more likely than not.

(3) The act was solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.

(c) Subdivision (b) shall not be construed to prohibit the prosecution of any person under any other provision of law.

188.

(a) For purposes of Section 187, malice may be express or implied.

(1) Malice is express when there is manifested a deliberate intention to unlawfully take away the life of a fellow creature.

(2) Malice is implied when no considerable provocation appears, or when the circumstances attending the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

(3) Except as stated in subdivision (e) of Section 189, in order to be convicted of murder, a principal in a crime shall act with malice aforethought. Malice shall not be imputed to a person based solely on his or her participation in a crime.

(b) If it is shown that the killing resulted from an intentional act with express or implied malice, as defined in subdivision (a), no other mental state need be shown to establish the mental state of malice aforethought. Neither an awareness of the obligation to act within the general body of laws regulating society nor acting despite that awareness is included within the definition of malice.

189.

(a) All murder that is perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive, a weapon of mass destruction, knowing use of ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor, poison, lying in wait, torture, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or that is committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, arson, rape, carjacking, robbery, burglary, mayhem, kidnapping, train wrecking, or any act punishable under Section 206, 286, 287, 288, or 289, or former Section 288a, or murder that is perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at another person outside of the vehicle with the intent to inflict death, is murder of the first degree.

(b) All other kinds of murders are of the second degree.

(c) As used in this section, the following definitions apply:

(1) “Destructive device” has the same meaning as in Section 16460.

(2) “Explosive” has the same meaning as in Section 12000 of the Health and Safety Code.

(3) “Weapon of mass destruction” means any item defined in Section 11417.

(d) To prove the killing was “deliberate and premeditated,” it is not necessary to prove the defendant maturely and meaningfully reflected upon the gravity of the defendant’s act.

(e) A participant in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of a felony listed in subdivision (a) in which a death occurs is liable for murder only if one of the following is proven:

(1) The person was the actual killer.

(2) The person was not the actual killer, but, with the intent to kill, aided, abetted, counseled, commanded, induced, solicited, requested, or assisted the actual killer in the commission of murder in the first degree.

(3) The person was a major participant in the underlying felony and acted with reckless indifference to human life, as described in subdivision (d) of Section 190.2.

(f) Subdivision (e) does not apply to a defendant when the victim is a peace officer who was killed while in the course of the peace officer’s duties, where the defendant knew or reasonably should have known that the victim was a peace officer engaged in the performance of the peace officer’s duties.

198.5.

Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.

As used in this section, great bodily injury means a significant or substantial physical injury.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.