Nationally, and certainly within the state of Indiana, a great deal of public interest has been garnered with the passage of the castle doctrine and its companion doctrine, standing one’s ground, into law. However, every seasoned criminal defense attorney knows this defense is poorly understood across the board. Prosecutors, who serve the public, also understand this—although they often have very different views on the scope and meaning of these doctrines.
Think you understand them? Think again. Here is the question: Are you willing to die—today--for your understanding, be sued tomorrow for all you have, or go to prison for the rest of your life? If not, this blog post is written for you. This blog post explores the historical background of the castle doctrine and its companion stand-your-ground doctrine so you understand it and not make a mistake that might cost you your fortune, freedom, and, frankly, your life.
These two related doctrines date from Roman times where a castle and its curtilage (where the livestock and crops were raised and stored) were the self-sustaining means by which a family lived or died, whether from invaders who pillaged the castle and took the women and other spoils, to a simple invasion and destruction to resolve a clan or family disputes. Thus, a man’s home and curtilage were his castle—life or death. Any destruction could not be replaced by purchasing a new home or restocking at the local store.
Thus, the castle and curtilage could be defended in nearly any way with deadly force when under attack. Period. There was no 911. There were no real courts. And the occupants did not have to save an invader’s life even if they could because a survivor could return home for reinforcements. The living invaders who survived and were wounded were probably killed. But on the other hand, this was not nirvana. Hardly. No air conditioning. No antibiotics or tetanus shot for stepping on a rusty nail. No smart devices. No hospitals. No electricity. No water company. So if you would trade your life, prison and/or losing everything you have saved, made and earned, you should be fine. If not, read on.
As is apparent, those days have long passed. Fortunately, this blog elucidates what the castle and stand your ground doctrine mean today.
We have written on actual, potential use of deadly force before as it relates to a “second” warning shot or what to do if you are involved in a deadly force encounter. This blog is different and explores the legal differences between these accurately defined ancient doctrines and what the Legislature apparently intended when it adopted the castle and stand-your-ground doctrines for today.
The differences may mean your future—live or die, be civilly sued, or be incarcerated. At this point, a few of you are saying, “I have the Second Amendment”. Not so. No state or the United States Supreme Court has taken that view that this is a blanket right to use deadly force and carry a firearm any place. What the Legislature did was signal your home and curtilage are special—it is where the most intimate aspects of your life occur, from procreation to discharging bodily functions to raising and protecting your children, so there is a greater right to protect it with deadly force when under attack: No thug should tackle you wife or child and kidnap him or her from your yard or invade your home during your evening mean even if you could retreat.1
As a threshold matter, there is no set meaning for curtilage today. In fact, it is arguably the term has no a corollary in today’s urban world. Most of us don’t have gardens and wood stocks we depend on to feed us and warm us to get us through winter. Thus, the curtilage differs in an apartment, housing edition, or a farm. The boundaries are indeterminate. Don’t push them!
The further you are from the inside of your home if you stand your ground to protect your curtilage or occupied motor vehicle, the more risk you are at from criminal charge for two reasons.
First, the area immediately outside one’s apartment is not curtilage, but a common area. Second, the area outside of a home gets even murkier. Where does the curtilage end? Fifteen feet from the house? At the staked boundary or fence? At a difference between grass types and mowing patterns between your home and another? What if you have a sidewalk, which is an invitation for someone to come to the home?
Where curtilage could come up, and one may make the decision not to retreat, is you are outside and someone lodges an attack on your curtilage, such as you get out of your car and observe a burglar breaking into the home. Nevertheless, knowing you might have the right to take a life in this situation under the castle doctrine and standing your ground, does not mean you should—you might be wrong in your analysis; maybe it is the carpet cleaners keeping late hours at the wrong house.2 In the midst of this, the police may arrive and shoot you believing you are gunning down a homeowner entering his home.
Second, a number of other doctrines also factor into the castle doctrine and no retreat. For instance, if you are inside, grab a gun and go after a trespasser with apparent ill intent, you may be perceived as the aggressor legally and under the facts and circumstances later presented to the prosecutor, which extinguishes the right between the castle doctrine and standing your ground, makes you—potentially—guilty of reckless homicide. That is if you are not shot and killed by the responding officers.
Thus, even with these doctrines, you should avoid using force and deadly force if there is another way. A police officer arriving on the scene may mistakenly shoot you as you have the gun, you may be civilly sued and lose all of your assets, or you may—in the blink of an eye—become the criminal. In any case, there is one cardinal rule—remain silent and lawyer-up because, in the aftermath of a deadly force encounter, you cannot accurately remember all key facts due to brain chemistry changes. Don’t make a statement, it may mean the difference between the castle doctrine and standing your ground and the affirmative defense of self-defense prevailing and walking free to incarceration.
This blog post is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal defense cases, including firearms cases, throughout the state of Indiana, as well as consult on such cases, including civil compliance and criminal issues involving FFLs/SOTs and manufacturers across the United States. This blog post is written for general educational purposes and it not intended as legal advice in a specific situation. It is advertising material.
- It is key to note and remember many states still require retreat and do not have the castle doctrine codified as a defense in the penal law; the prudent course is always to retreat if it is safe to do so.
- This is a real potential castle doctrine and standing one’s ground story.