Similar to Englishmen in the 17th century, most New Yorkers probably consider their home to be their castle — a refuge from the world. It is human nature to want to protect our “castles” from intruders. Perhaps rather unsurprisingly, this concept has a legal name called the Castle Doctrine. It is not a defined law, but a set of principles that has been adopted as some form of law in most states, including New York.
Castle Doctrine laws allow people to use force, including deadly force if necessary, to protect themselves from intruders into their home, vehicles and even businesses. The Castle Doctrine provides a lawful defense against any criminal charges filed by an intruder, such as assault. In some cases it may also provide a defense if an injured intruder sues for medical bills, property damage, disability, or pain and suffering.
New York’s Castle Doctrine laws come from a justification statute that has been in place since 1968. The statute allows a person, after making a reasonable judgment, to use deadly force against an intruder who also uses deadly force. Under the law, if you are in your own home and you did not initiate the violent behavior, you are not required to retreat from an armed intruder if you cannot do so safely.
In addition, the statute allows deadly force to be used in the home if defending against kidnapping, rape, robbery, burglary or arson.
In a recent case from Oklahoma, the Castle Doctrine was invoked when a young mother was not charged after shooting and killing a burglar who broke into her home on New Year’s Eve.
Groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) are proponents of the Castle Doctrine, believing that victims who defend themselves from intruders should not be put in positions where they also have to defend themselves from legal prosecution. But not all groups are as supportive of such laws. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys feels that rights of self-defense and defense of property are already valid parts of the law and it is not necessary to write more self-defense laws.
Although the Castle Doctrine assumes that people defending against intruders are innocent, the police and local prosecutors are still required to investigate and decide whether or not to file charges. If you find yourself facing charges after defending your own property, contact an experienced New York criminal defense attorney to protect your rights.