Castle Doctrine Law: South Dakota

When it comes to laws and self-defense laws in particular, certain states are not worthy of extremely lengthy, exacting, and sometimes perplexing statutes that seem to go on forever.

Flag of South Dakota

I suppose this is reasonable considering the seriousness of using lethal force in defense of life. However, there are some states which go the opposite way regarding their laws on the matter.

South Dakota is one such state, and is possessed of uniformly good but very sparing laws concerning self-defense and the use of lethal force in self-defense in particular.

South Dakota says that the use of force and self-defense that results in the death of the attacker is justifiable homicide, or homicide that is excusable due to the actions of the attacker.

It is easy enough to understand, but like all laws on the matter it is somewhat nuanced.

Keep reading to learn what you need to know about South Dakota’s functionally equivalent castle doctrine statutes and make sure you stick around to check out the exact text of the relevant laws at the end.

THE GUN LAWYER: What is the Castle Doctrine?

Fast Facts

  • South Dakota law categorizes the death of an attacker at the hands of the defender or would be victim as justifiable homicide.
  • Under South Dakota law, justifiable homicide occurs when it results from a defender’s attempt to prevent their own murder, the murder of a third party, or the attempted infliction of great bodily injury on themselves or a third party.
  • Homicide is also justifiable to prevent the commission of a felony upon the defender, upon a third party, or upon or in any occupied dwelling house.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in South Dakota

At first reading, South Dakota’s self-defense laws seem somewhat archaic, both in language and intention.

But, with a little bit of understanding, they are surprisingly and refreshingly elegant, and even more happy they are strongly on the side of the defender.

In essence, South Dakota does not expressly say that lethal force is it justified in self-defense. Instead, South Dakota justifies homicide, but homicide against an attacker who uses unlawful force.

When the bad guy or attacker in this instance winds up dead because of the use of force on behalf of the defender or a third party, it is known as justifiable homicide.

Homicide is justifiable when it is used to prevent the commission of any felony on the defender or a third party, or commit a felony on or in the defenders occupied dwelling.

A felony could be something like assault, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering, an arson-any felony under South Dakota law.

For instance, someone who enters the defenders dwelling by stealth or guile and then attacks the defender or any other occupant of the home is committing a felony, and if the defender shot and killed them that homicide would be justifiable under the law.

Similarly, an attacker who is attempting to forcibly break down a door and gain entrance to the dwelling is committing a felony at that time against the dwelling itself, and if shot it would, in the same way, be called justifiable homicide.

So long as these circumstances and conditions are met, a person who uses lethal force and defense of themselves or someone else to stop the imminent commission or ongoing commission of any felony against themselves or a third party is in essence justified.

It’s also worth pointing out that under South Dakota law at no time does the person using force and self-defense have any right to retreat from a place they have a legal, lawful right to be.

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Homicide is never justifiable when it is used to protect property alone, of any kind.

The only exceptions to this are if a defender is using lethal force to protect an occupied property from any felony being inflicted upon it, or the imminent commission of a felony upon the occupied property.


Despite their somewhat archaic wording South Dakota’s self-defense laws could not be clearer.

The use of lethal force and self-defense is justified to protect yourself or someone else from the threat of death, great bodily injury or the commission or attempted commission of any felony, and similarly maybe used to protect any occupied dwelling that the defender inhabits from the commission or attempted commission of any felony in or upon the dwelling itself.

Relevant South Dakota Castle Doctrine Statutes

22-1-2. Definition of terms. Terms used in this title mean:


(d) The words, “reckless, recklessly,” and all derivatives thereof, import a conscious and unjustifiable disregard of a substantial risk that the offender’s conduct may cause a certain result or may be of a certain nature. A person is reckless with respect to circumstances if that person consciously and unjustifiably disregards a substantial risk that such circumstances may exist;

(e) The words, “neglect, negligently,” and all words derived thereof, import a want of attention to the nature or probable consequences of an act or omission which a prudent person ordinarily bestows in acting in his or her own concerns;


(3) “Affirmative defense,” an issue involving an alleged defense to which, unless the state’s evidence raises the issue, the defendant, to raise the issue, must present some credible evidence. If the issue involved in an affirmative defense is raised, then the guilt of the defendant must be established beyond a reasonable doubt as to that issue as well as all other elements of the offense;


(9) “Crime of violence,” any of the following crimes or an attempt to commit, or a conspiracy to commit, or a solicitation to commit any of the following crimes: murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated assault, riot, robbery, burglary in the first degree, arson, kidnapping, felony sexual contact as defined in § 22-22-7, felony child abuse as defined in § 26-10-1, or any other felony in the commission of which the perpetrator used force, or was armed with a dangerous weapon, or used any explosive or destructive device;

(10) “Dangerous weapon” or “deadly weapon,” any firearm, stun gun, knife, or device, instrument, material, or substance, whether animate or inanimate, which is calculated or designed to inflict death or serious bodily harm, or by the manner in which it is used is likely to inflict death or serious bodily harm;


(28) “Occupied structure,” any structure:

(a) Which is the permanent or temporary habitation of any person, whether or not any person is actually present;

(b) Which at the time is specially adapted for the overnight accommodation of any person, whether or not any person is actually present; or

(c) In which at the time any person is present;

(35) “Property,” anything of value, including, but not limited to, motor vehicles, real estate, tangible and intangible personal property, contract rights, choses-in-action, and other interests in or claims to wealth, admission or transportation tickets, captured or domestic animals, food and drink, electric or other power, services, and signatures which purport to create, maintain, or extinguish any legal obligation;


(44A) “Serious bodily injury,” such injury as is grave and not trivial, and gives rise to apprehension of danger to life, health, or limb;


(49) “Structure,” any house, building, outbuilding, motor vehicle, watercraft, aircraft, railroad car, trailer, tent, or other edifice, vehicle or shelter, or any portion thereof;

22-1-4. Felony and misdemeanor distinguished.

Any crime is either a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony is a crime which is or may be punishable by imprisonment in the state penitentiary. Every other crime is a misdemeanor.

22-16-34. Justifiable homicide–Resisting attempted murder–Resisting felony on person or in dwelling house.

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

22-16-35. Justifiable homicide–Defense of person–Defense of other persons in household.

Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

22-18-4. Justifiable use of force to protect property–Use of deadly force–Duty to retreat.

Any person is justified in the use of force or violence against another person when the person reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate the other person’s trespass on or other criminal interference with real property or personal property lawfully in his or her possession or in the possession of another who is a member of his or her immediate family or household or of a person whose property he or she has a legal right to protect. However, the person is justified in the use of deadly force only as provided in §§ 22-16-34 and 22-16-35. A person does not have a duty to retreat if the person is in a place where he or she has a right to be.

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