You’re at home about to fall asleep when suddenly you hear the faint shuffle of footsteps downstairs.
You’re single. No pets. No kids. No boyfriend. Nobody has a key to your home, so it must be an intruder.
You reach for your cell phone on the nightstand, but it’s not there…it’s charging downstairs.
Your good sense tells you it’s best to escape, but that’s impossible from your two story window.
You pick up the nightstand to “lock and block” your bedroom door, but it’s too late…you hear footsteps creaking up the stairs.
You retrieve the gun from the dresser. You have seconds to decide. Does the law allow you to use deadly force when you haven’t yet been attacked?
In this country we have “stand your ground” and “duty to retreat” laws that vary by state. These laws establish what you can do when you’re threatened.
What is a stand your ground law?
Sometimes called a “line in the sand” law, it says that you may use deadly force when you reasonably believe it’s necessary to defend against deadly force.
The opposite are duty to retreat laws, typically worded like: “Even a person who is unlawfully attacked may not use deadly force if it is possible to avoid the danger with complete safety by retreating.”
These laws have nuances that vary by state.
For example, Pennsylvania is a stand your ground state, but limits this right to situations where you are resisting attack by a deadly weapon, and reasonably believe it might be more dangerous to try to flee.
On the other hand, New York is a duty to retreat state, but doesn’t require retreat when you are threatened with robbery, burglary, or kidnapping. When you think about it, that’s really like Pennsylvania’s stand your ground standard, just framed from the opposite direction.
So is Arizona a stand your ground state or a duty to retreat state?
Arizona is one of 37 stand your ground states with statutes providing that “there is no duty to retreat from an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.”
The other 13 states impose “a duty to retreat when one can do so with absolute safety.”
However, one thing all 50 states agree on is the “castle doctrine.”
What is the castle doctrine?
The castle doctrine says you have no duty to retreat from an attacker in your own home.
It originated in England, all the way back in 1604.
The “sanctity of human life” was a central tenet of English common law. Back then, the King was the only person with the authority to “take a life” through his orders.
But with the King’s power came his protection as well.
If you were attacked in the vicinity of his kingdom, the law stated that you had a “duty to retreat” to the “wall behind your back,” referring to the King’s wall, where his guards would protect you.
But what if there was an intruder in your own home, far from the King’s walls of protection?
That was the one exception, known as the castle doctrine, which established that you didn’t have a duty to retreat in your own home.
A few quotes from the 1604 case that established this standard:
“It is not a felony for a man to defend his house to the death.”
“The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defense against injury and violence as for his repose.”
This is where the saying “A man’s home is his castle” comes from.
The 17th century was a time when “enlightened” philosophers advocated for the “unalienable rights” of the individual, including the right to protect oneself and one’s property, even against intrusion by the King.
The castle doctrine was formally established as English law in 1628 by England’s Attorney General Sir Edward Coke in which he again reaffirmed:
“For a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge.”
Over the next 100+ years the right to defend your home in almost any situation grew from a legal standard, to an unalienable, widely accepted right, even against the authorities, as evidenced by this celebrated 1763 statement before Parliament by William Pitt, First Earl of Chatham:
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. His home may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storm may enter; the rain may enter; but the King of England cannot enter!”
However, there is one exception to the castle doctrine, a situation when you’d be smart to retreat in your own home…
When your wife says so.