Castle Doctrine Law: Oregon

Oregon is rarely thought of as a state that is particularly pro-gun or pro-self-defense, but readers will be happy to learn that the state nonetheless possesses clearly stated and easy-to-understand laws concerning self-defense.

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However, though the state has a castle doctrine law in function, it is not clearly stated as such, and Oregon remains one of a few states where jury interpretation of the defender’s actions alone could make the difference between acquittal and condemnation.

Even so, Oregon’s laws on the subject are generally easy to understand, and we will tell you everything you need to know about them below.

Fast Facts

  • Oregon law provides that citizens have a right to defend themselves from the unlawful use of force and particular felonies anywhere they have a legal right to be.
  • Notably, citizens may use force, including deadly force in self-defense when inside their home or other structure to prevent the imminent use of felonious force.
  • Oregon law makes no mention of a defender’s obligation to retreat in any such case when they have a reasonable belief that self-defense is necessary, but neither does the law codify that they have no such obligation.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in Oregon

As mentioned above, Oregon does not have any explicitly codified castle doctrine law, but functionally its self-defense laws provide justification for citizens forced to protect themselves or other occupants of a dwelling or other structure.

Namely, 161.205 paragraph 5 clarifies that any person may use physical force against another person in self-defense or in defense of a third person, or in defense of a property.

161.209 further states that a person is justified in using physical force in defense against another when they reasonably believe that the use of unlawful physical force against them or a third party is imminent or occurring.

Later, 161.219 specifies that deadly physical force may never be used against another person and self-defense unless the defender reasonably believes that the person using unlawful physical force is committing or attempting to commit a felony involving physical force, is committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling or is using, or about to use deadly physical force against the defender.

The above sections apply to any place where a person has a legal, lawful right to be, but in section 161.225 the statutes further clarify the use of physical force in defense of a premises, and specifically in paragraph two it further clarifies the use of deadly physical force in defense.

Subsection A states that deadly physical force may be used in defense of a premises anytime that the force is justifiable when defending a person inside the premises according to 161.219, or when the defender reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent the commission of arson or any felony a force and violence committed by the trespasser.

Restrictions

There are no special restrictions regarding self-defense per se in Oregon’s state statutes, but it should be pointed out that there is the obligation for a defender to act reasonably when it comes to the application of force and self-defense, and lethal force in particular.

How does one define acting reasonably? This is where things could get quite hairy when it comes to the jury’s determination as to whether or not the actions that a defender took under considerable pressure and stress in an instant are reasonable or not.

As always, a judge and jury will assess at their leisure decisions that you or anyone else must make quickly and almost always with imperfect knowledge in a self-defense encounter.

It is imperative that all defenders know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the use of lethal force was absolutely necessary and unavoidable under the circumstances before acting.

Assessment

Oregon is a state that can be nominally classified as having a castle doctrine. The state statutes concerning self-defense in and around the home or any other dwelling are quite clear, and nowhere is it specified that defenders have an obligation to retreat.

However, it is neither specified that the defenders have no such obligation to retreat. It is in the best interest of all citizens in Oregon to be absolutely certain of a lethal threat against them or others in the home before using lethal force in self-defense.

Something Incredible Is Happening In Oregon

Relevant Oregon Castle Doctrine Statutes

161.015 – General definitions.

As used in chapter 743, Oregon Laws 1971, and ORS 166.635, unless the context requires otherwise:

(1) “Dangerous weapon” means any weapon, device, instrument, material or substance which under the circumstances in which it is used, attempted to be used or threatened to be used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

(2) “Deadly weapon” means any instrument, article or substance specifically designed for and presently capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

(3) “Deadly physical force” means physical force that under the circumstances in which it is used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

(…)

(6) “Physical force” includes, but is not limited to, the use of an electrical stun gun, tear gas or mace.

(7) “Physical injury” means impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.

(8) “Serious physical injury” means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.

(…)

(10) “Public place” means a place to which the general public has access and includes, but is not limited to, hallways, lobbies and other parts of apartment houses and hotels not constituting rooms or apartments designed for actual residence, and highways, streets, schools, places of amusement, parks, playgrounds and premises used in connection with public passenger transportation.


Section 161.195 – “Justification” described.

(1) Unless inconsistent with other provisions of chapter 743, Oregon Laws 1971, defining justifiable use of physical force, or with some other provision of law, conduct which would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal when it is required or authorized by law or by a judicial decree or is performed by a public servant in the reasonable exercise of official powers, duties or functions.

(2) As used in subsection (1) of this section, “laws and judicial decrees” include but are not limited to:

(a) Laws defining duties and functions of public servants;

(b) Laws defining duties of private citizens to assist public servants in the performance of certain of their functions;

(c) Laws governing the execution of legal process;

(d) Laws governing the military services and conduct of war; and

(e) Judgments and orders of courts.


161.205 – Use of physical force generally.

The use of physical force upon another person that would otherwise constitute an offense is justifiable and not criminal under any of the following circumstances:

(1)(a) A parent, guardian or other person entrusted with the care and supervision of a minor or an incompetent person may use reasonable physical force upon such minor or incompetent person when and to the extent the person reasonably believes it necessary to maintain discipline or to promote the welfare of the minor or incompetent person.

(b) Personnel of a public education program, as that term is defined in ORS 339.285, may use reasonable physical force upon a student when and to the extent the application of force is consistent with ORS 339.285 to 339.303.

(2) Subject to ORS 421.107, an authorized official of a jail, prison or correctional facility may use physical force when and to the extent that the official reasonably believes it necessary to maintain order and discipline or as is authorized by law.

(3) A person responsible for the maintenance of order in a common carrier of passengers, or a person acting under the direction of the person, may use physical force when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes it necessary to maintain order, but the person may use deadly physical force only when the person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent death or serious physical injury.

(4) A person acting under a reasonable belief that another person is about to commit suicide or to inflict serious physical self-injury may use physical force upon that person to the extent that the person reasonably believes it necessary to thwart the result.

(5) A person may use physical force upon another person in self-defense or in defending a third person, in defending property, in making an arrest or in preventing an escape, as hereafter prescribed in chapter 743, Oregon Laws 1971.


161.209 – Use of physical force in defense of a person.

Except as provided in ORS 161.215 and 161.219, a person is justified in using physical force upon another person for self-defense or to defend a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force, and the person may use a degree of force which the person reasonably believes to be necessary for the purpose.


161.215 – Limitations on use of physical force in defense of a person.

Notwithstanding ORS 161.209, a person is not justified in using physical force upon another person if:

(1) With intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, the person provokes the use of unlawful physical force by that person; or

(2) The person is the initial aggressor, except that the use of physical force upon another person under such circumstances is justifiable if the person withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to the other person the intent to do so, but the latter nevertheless continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful physical force; or

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


161.219 – Limitations on use of deadly physical force in defense of a person.

Notwithstanding the provisions of ORS 161.209, a person is not justified in using deadly physical force upon another person unless the person reasonably believes that the other person is:

(1) Committing or attempting to commit a felony involving the use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person; or

(2) Committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling; or

(3) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force against a person.


161.225 – Use of physical force in defense of premises.

(1) A person in lawful possession or control of premises is justified in using physical force upon another person when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or terminate what the person reasonably believes to be the commission or attempted commission of a criminal trespass by the other person in or upon the premises.

(2) A person may use deadly physical force under the circumstances set forth in subsection (1) of this section only:

(a) In defense of a person as provided in ORS 161.219; or

(b) When the person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent the commission of arson or a felony by force and violence by the trespasser.

(3) As used in subsection (1) and subsection (2)(a) of this section, “premises” includes any building as defined in ORS 164.205 and any real property. As used in subsection (2)(b) of this section, “premises” includes any building.


161.229 – Use of physical force in defense of property.

A person is justified in using physical force, other than deadly physical force, upon another person when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes it to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission by the other person of theft or criminal mischief of property.


161.245 – “Reasonable belief” described; status of unlawful arrest.

(1) For the purposes of ORS 161.235 and 161.239, a reasonable belief that a person has committed an offense means a reasonable belief in facts or circumstances which if true would in law constitute an offense. If the believed facts or circumstances would not in law constitute an offense, an erroneous though not unreasonable belief that the law is otherwise does not render justifiable the use of force to make an arrest or to prevent an escape from custody.

(2) A peace officer who is making an arrest is justified in using the physical force prescribed in ORS 161.235 and 161.239 unless the arrest is unlawful and is known by the officer to be unlawful.

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