Castle Doctrine Law: Vermont

Vermont will probably prove to be one of the most contentious inclusions on this list of states with Castle Doctrine laws.

flag of vermont

That is because it, technically, does not have a Castle Doctrine statute at all, but is instead a Castle Doctrine equivalent state thanks to jury instructions and a long and distinguished history ruling on the side of civilian defenders who act reasonably when forced to use lethal force in self-defense.

Now, this will definitely give some folks reason for pause, but there have been plenty of cases tried to establish a precedent that so long as the act of self-defense was itself justified and the amount of force used under the circumstances was reasonable to stop the use of unlawful force against a defender or an innocent third party then citizens have no obligation to retreat from their homes or any other place they have a lawful right to be.

It might sound like calls for concern, but it really isn’t. Nonetheless, keep reading to get the full story on Vermont’s Castle Doctrine equivalent legal precedence.

Also, be sure to check out the exact text of what self-defense statutes there are and the jury instructions in question at the end of the article.

Fast Facts

  • Law and case president in Vermont justifies the use of lethal force in self-defense so long as the use of force is appropriate to the circumstances wherever a citizen happens to be. This includes the home, and other dwellings.
  • For clarity, Vermont has no codified and on the books Castle Doctrine statute or similarly worded provision among its laws. The functional equivalent of Castle Doctrine is enacted by a combination of other existing laws on the books, case precedent and jury instructions.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in Vermont

On the one hand, the laws in Vermont are definitely eye opening and encouraging. They are sparse, minimal and completely unambiguous when it comes to self-defense.

So long as a citizen is acting to protect themselves or someone else from the imminent, threatened use of unlawful deadly force or the inflection of great bodily injury, or the commission of a forcible felony then they have no obligation to retreat from any place they have a legal, lawful right to be, be that a public place, their own home or any other dwelling.

Restrictions

None codified. See jury instructions.

Assessment

You might say that the mechanism by which Vermont applies its Castle Doctrine equivalent is unique, but the results definitely are not. Vermont is a staunch defender of citizens’ rights to self-defense, and that definitely includes in their own homes, businesses or any other place they have a lawful right to be.

Relevant Vermont Castle Doctrine Statutes

Excerpt follows from Vermont State Statutes

2305. Justifiable homicide

If a person kills or wounds another under any of the circumstances enumerated below, he or she shall be guiltless:

(1) in the just and necessary defense of the person’s own life or the life of the person’s spouse, parent, child, sibling, guardian, or ward; or

(2) in the forceful or violent suppression of a person attempting to commit murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, burglary, or robbery; or

(3) in the case of a law enforcement officer as defined in 20 V.S.A. § 2351(a) using force in compliance with 20 V.S.A. § 2368(b)(2), (4), and (5) or deadly force in compliance with 20 V.S.A. § 2368(c)(1)-(4). (Amended 1983, No. 23, § 2; 2019, No. 165 (Adj. Sess.), § 2, eff. July 1, 2021.)


2305. Justifiable homicide

If a person kills or wounds another under any of the circumstances enumerated below, he or she shall be guiltless:

(1) in the just and necessary defense of his or her own life or the life of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, master, mistress, servant, guardian, or ward; or

(2) in the suppression of a person attempting to commit murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, burglary, or robbery, with force or violence; or

(3) in the case of a civil officer; or a military officer or private soldier when lawfully called out to suppress riot or rebellion, or to prevent or suppress invasion, or to assist in serving legal process, in suppressing opposition against him or her in the just and necessary discharge of his or her duty. (Amended 1983, No. 23, § 2.)

Excerpt follows from Vermont Model Criminal Jury Instructions

SEQ CHAPTER \h \r 1CR07-101 11/09/07

SELF-DEFENSE

The issue of self-defense is presented in this case. If (Def)_______________ acted in lawful self-defense, then [his] [her] actions are excused, and [he] [she] is not guilty of any crime.

(Def)_______________ is not required to prove that [he] [she] acted in self-defense. Instead, the State must have proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that [he] [she] did not act in self-defense.

[He] [she] had a right to use a reasonable amount of force to defend [himself] [herself], if [he] [she] reasonably believed the following three things:

1. that [he] [she] was in immediate danger of bodily harm;

2. that the use of force was necessary to avoid this harm; and

3. that the amount of force [he] [she] used was necessary.

A person acting in self-defense may only use the amount of force that reasonably appears to be necessary under the circumstances. Whether (Def)_______________’s actions were justified as self-defense depends upon whether it reasonably appeared to [him] [her] that it was necessary to use the force that [he] [she] actually used. If [he] [she] used more force than was reasonably necessary to avoid injury, then [he] [she] did not act in self defense.


THE AGGRESSOR AND SELF-DEFENSE OR DEFENSE OF ANOTHER

If, however, the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (Def)_______________ was the aggressor in this confrontation, then you may not find that (Def)_______________ acted in lawful [self defense] [defense of another]. An aggressor is one who:

(1) started the confrontation by first using force or the threat of immediate use of force, and

(2) did not regain the right of [self defense] [defense of another] by effectively withdrawing from the confrontation.

To have effectively withdrawn from the confrontation, (Def)_______________ must have made reasonable efforts under the circumstances to notify (victim)_______________, by word and by deed, that [he] [she] was withdrawing.


SELF-DEFENSE (USE OF DEADLY FORCE)

Evidence has been introduced bearing on the issue of self-defense, as justification for the [killing of (victim)_______________] [use of deadly force by (Def)_______________]. The State bears the burden of proving that the [killing] [use of deadly force] was unlawful. A [killing] [use of deadly force] committed in lawful self-defense is lawful, and not a crime. Here the State must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (Def)_______________ did not act in self-defense. [He] [She] has no burden of proof on this issue.

A person has the right to defend [himself] [herself] when [he] [she] is attacked, or when [he] [she] reasonably believes [he] [she] is in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm. A person in that situation has the right to use only such force as is reasonably necessary to repel the attack or the perceived imminent danger.

A [killing] [use of deadly force] is justified by self-defense if:

(1) (Def)_______________ reasonably believed that [he] [she] was in imminent danger of being killed or of suffering great bodily harm, and

(2) (Def)_______________’s use of deadly force was reasonably necessary to repel the perceived threat.

The right of self-defense does not require that a person actually be assaulted, but (Def)_______________ must have believed that [he] [she] was in imminent danger of great bodily harm, and [his] [her] belief must have been reasonable under the circumstances. [His] [Her] expectation of harm must have been based upon fact, and not on some imaginary fear. Furthermore, if [he] [she] honestly and reasonably believed it was immediately necessary to use deadly force to protect himself from an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury, the law does not require [him] [her] to retreat.

Self-defense requires that (Def)_______________ must have had a reasonable fear of imminent harm. In deciding this issue, you may consider what [he] [she] knew about (victim)_______________ at the time. You may consider any previous interactions, including any aggressive or hostile conduct by (victim)_______________, and any other evidence you consider relevant, including who started the confrontation.

When assessing the reasonableness of (Def)_______________’s fear, you may consider the individual characteristics of (Def)_______________ and (victim)_______________, such as their respective size, gender, age, physical condition, strength, stamina, courage, and assertiveness.

Self-defense permits only the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to repel the perceived harm. A person may use the amount of force that reasonably appears to be necessary under all of the circumstances known to [him] [her] at the time. In this case you must decide whether (Def)_______________ reasonably believed it was necessary to use the amount of force that [he] [she] did use. When a person has reasonable grounds to believe that an assault is imminent, [he] [she] need not wait until it actually occurs before [he] [she] may resort to self-defense.

Once the issue of self-defense appears in the case, the burden is on the State to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that (Def)_______________ did not act in self-defense, or that the force used by (Def)_______________ was excessive under the circumstances. (Def)_______________ is not required to prove that [he] [she] acted in self-defense.


SELF-DEFENSE, AND DEFENSE OF ANOTHER (USE OF DEADLY FORCE)

Introduction

Evidence has been introduced bearing on the issues of lawful self-defense, and lawful defense of another, as justifications for the killing of (victim)_______________. The State bears the burden of proving that the killing was unlawful. A killing committed in self-defense, or in defense of another, is justified by these defenses, and it is not a crime. Here the State must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (Def)_______________ did not act in self-defense or in defense of another. (Def)_______________ has no burden of proof on these issues.

Self-Defense

A person has the right to defend [himself] [herself] when [he] [she] is attacked, or when [he] [she] reasonably believes [he] [she] is in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily harm. A person in that situation has the right to use only such force as is reasonably necessary to repel the attack or the perceived imminent danger.

A killing is justified by self-defense if:

(1) (Def)_______________ reasonably believed that [he] [she] was in imminent danger of being killed or of suffering great bodily harm, and

(2) [his] [her] use of deadly force was reasonably necessary to repel the perceived threat.

The right of self-defense does not require that a person actually be assaulted, but (Def)_______________ must have believed that [he] [she] was in imminent danger, and [his] [her] belief must have been reasonable under the circumstances. (Def)_______________’s expectation of harm must have been based upon fact and not on some imaginary fear.

Self-defense requires that (Def)_______________ must have had a reasonable fear of imminent harm. In deciding this issue, you may consider what (Def)_______________ knew about (victim)_______________ at the time. You may consider any previous interactions, including any aggressive or hostile conduct by (victim)_______________, and any other evidence you consider relevant, including who started the confrontation.

When assessing the reasonableness of (Def)_______________’s fear, you may consider the individual characteristics of (Def)_______________ and (victim)_______________, such as their respective size, gender, age, physical condition, strength, stamina, courage, and assertiveness.

Self-defense permits only the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to repel the perceived harm. A person may use the amount of force that reasonably appears to be necessary under all of the circumstances known to [him] [her] at the time. In this case you must decide whether (Def)_______________ reasonably believed it was necessary to use the amount of force that [he] [she] did use. When a person has reasonable grounds to believe that an assault is imminent, [he] [she] need not wait until it actually occurs before [he] [she] may resort to self-defense.

Defense of Another

(Def)_______________ also claims that [he] [she] acted in defense of (third person)_______________. A person may lawfully use deadly force in the just and necessary defense of the life of [his] [her] [wife] [husband] [parent] [child] [brother] [sister] [master] [mistress] [servant] [guardian] [ward]. If the necessary relationship exists, (Def)_______________’s actions in defense of (third person)_______________ were justified, if (third person)_______________ was in danger of being killed, or of receiving great bodily harm, or if (third person)_______________ reasonably appeared to be in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.

Here the killing was justified by defense of another if:

(1) (Third person)_______________ was (Def)_______________’s [wife] [husband] [parent] [child] [brother] [sister] [master] [mistress] [servant] [guardian] [ward]; and

(2) (Def)_______________ reasonably believed that [his] [her] use of force was necessary for the defense of (third person)_______________; and

(3) Under the circumstances, as they were reasonably perceived by (Def)_______________, (third person)_______________ would have had the right to use deadly force to protect [himself] [herself].

As with the issue of self-defense, the State must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that (Def)_______________ was not justified to act as he did in the defense of (third person)_______________. (Def)_______________ bears no burden of proof on these issues.

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