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Penal Code 198.5 PC | Castle Doctrine

Penal Code 198.5 PC | California’s Castle Doctrine

If someone breaks into your home in California, do you have the right to defend yourself and your family – even if it means using deadly force against the intruder? This is a question many homeowners have, and the answer lies in California’s Castle Doctrine law. Let’s break down what the Castle Doctrine is, how it works, and what protections it provides homeowners in California.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

The Castle Doctrine is a legal principle based on the belief that “a man’s home is his castle.” It comes from English common law dating back to the early 1600s[1]. Basically, it means you have the right to protect your home and family from intruders without worrying about legal repercussions for using force – even deadly force if needed.

In California, the Castle Doctrine is codified in Penal Code 198.5 PC[2]. This law states that if someone forcibly enters or tries to enter your home unlawfully, you are presumed to have a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury to yourself or family. Therefore, if you use deadly force against the intruder, it is considered justifiable homicide – meaning you are legally protected.

Let’s break down the key parts of California’s Castle Doctrine law:

  • It applies to intruders entering or attempting to enter your home unlawfully and forcibly.
  • You must have known or reasonably believed the intruder was trying to enter forcibly.
  • It does not apply if the intruder is a family member or someone who lives with you.
  • You must have used force likely to cause death or great bodily injury against the intruder.

If all these conditions are met, you are presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent harm to yourself or family. Therefore, injuring or even killing the intruder would be legally justifiable self-defense.

Key Aspects of the Castle Doctrine

There are some important things to understand about how the Castle Doctrine works in California:

Presumption of Reasonable Fear

The Castle Doctrine establishes a legal presumption that you reasonably feared death or great bodily harm when using force against a home intruder. This means the law assumes you were acting in lawful self-defense – you don’t have to prove it[3].

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No Duty to Retreat

Unlike self-defense laws in some other states, California’s Castle Doctrine does not impose a duty to retreat before using force. If someone breaks into your home, you have the right to stand your ground and defend yourself rather than trying to escape.

Use of Deadly Force Allowed

Since the intruder is presumed to pose an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm simply by unlawfully and forcibly entering your home, you are justified in responding with deadly force if needed to stop the threat.

Limited to the Home

The Castle Doctrine only applies to intruders inside your home – not in other places like your front porch, yard, workplace, or vehicle. The law is strictly limited to defending your occupied home.[1]

Requirements for Claiming the Castle Doctrine

To claim legal protection under California’s Castle Doctrine, certain requirements must be met[4]:

  • The intruder unlawfully and forcibly entered or tried to enter your dwelling.
  • You knew or reasonably believed the entry was unlawful and forcible.
  • You used force likely to cause death or great bodily injury.
  • The intruder was not a family member or someone living with you.

All of these conditions must apply for the Castle Doctrine defense to work. If any are missing, you could still try to claim regular self-defense but would not have the legal presumption of the Castle Doctrine on your side.

Limitations of the Castle Doctrine

While the Castle Doctrine provides strong legal protections, it does have some limitations:

  • It only applies to intruders inside the home, not outside on the property.
  • It does not allow pursuing or attacking an intruder after the threat has ended.
  • It may not apply if the intruder is a police officer lawfully entering your home.
  • The presumption of reasonable fear can be rebutted with evidence by prosecutors.

Additionally, the force used must have been necessary and proportional to the perceived threat. Using grossly excessive force could still result in criminal charges.

Castle Doctrine vs. Stand Your Ground

California’s Castle Doctrine is sometimes confused with “Stand Your Ground” laws. The key difference is[5]:

  • Castle Doctrine – Applies to defending yourself inside your occupied home or dwelling.
  • Stand Your Ground – Removes the duty to retreat in any place you have a lawful right to be, including public spaces.

So Stand Your Ground laws expand self-defense rights beyond the home, while the Castle Doctrine focuses specifically on defending the home against intruders.

Real-Life Cases Involving California’s Castle Doctrine

Here are some examples of how California’s Castle Doctrine has been applied in real court cases:

People v. Brown (1992)

In this case, a man shot and killed someone trespassing on his enclosed front porch late at night. The court ruled the porch did not count as part of the “residence” for purposes of the Castle Doctrine. Therefore, the defendant could not claim legal protection under the Castle Doctrine.[6]

People v. Silvey (1997)

The defendant heard someone jimmying open his back door late at night. He grabbed a shotgun, confronted the intruder, and shot him dead. The court upheld his right to use deadly force under the Castle Doctrine since the intruder was in the process of forcibly entering his home.

People v. Chen (2020)

The defendant stabbed and killed someone who tried to force his way into her apartment. The court ruled she was protected under the Castle Doctrine because the evidence showed the intruder was in the process of making a violent, forcible entry.

Asserting the Castle Doctrine as a Legal Defense

If you are facing criminal charges for harming or killing an intruder in your home, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build a legal defense based on the Castle Doctrine. Some key steps include:

  • Gathering evidence like security footage, recordings, and witness statements to prove there was a forced and unlawful entry.
  • Demonstrating you had a reasonable belief the intruder posed an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.
  • Showing the level of force used was proportional and necessary to stop the threat.
  • Presenting evidence of your state of mind and sincere fear in the moment.
  • Filing pre-trial motions asserting immunity from prosecution under PC 198.5.

An experienced lawyer can also argue against any attempt by prosecutors to defeat the Castle Doctrine presumption. Having strong legal representation is key.

Consult an Attorney If Facing Charges

The Castle Doctrine can be a powerful defense for California homeowners who use force against violent intruders. However, successfully claiming this defense still requires meeting the requirements of PC 198.5 and overcoming any evidence presented by prosecutors.

If you are facing criminal charges for defending yourself or loved ones against home invaders, speak to a criminal defense lawyer right away. An attorney can assess your case and advise you on constructing a strong legal defense leveraging the Castle Doctrine.

With an experienced lawyer on your side, you can avoid being wrongly convicted for protecting your home and family from harm. Don’t leave your fate to chance – consult a criminal defense attorney today.


[1] https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/defense/penal-code/198-5/

[2] https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=198.5

[3] https://www.keglawyers.com/castle-doctrine-penal-code-198-5

[4] https://www.simmrinlawgroup.com/california-penal-code-section-198-5/

[5] https://www.la-criminaldefense.com/california-stand-your-ground-laws

[6] People v. Brown (1992) 6 Cal. App. 4th 1489

People v. Silvey (1997) 58 Cal. App. 4th 1320

People v. Chen (2020) 50 Cal. App. 5th 952


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