Headshot of Attorney Seth Morris

Attorney Seth Morris

Contact Today At


Written by Attorney Seth Morris


Everyone facing imminent danger has the right to defend themselves in California. However, the extent of your self-defense varies depending on the threat you face. California adheres to the castle doctrine, which gives individuals the right to protect themselves from home intruders.

While castles and fortresses are a thing of the past, this doctrine still has relevance to your case, and in some situations, could help you dodge a murder charge. Here’s more on the Castle Doctrine and how it applies to your case.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

According to California Penal Code § 198.5, also known as the Castle Doctrine, “Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her resident shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household.”

In other words, if a home intruder enters your home and puts you or your family’s life in danger, you have the right to respond with deadly force. However, the law states that you must have a “reasonable fear” that your life is in danger to use deadly force.

Just because someone enters your home doesn’t mean you have the right to shoot them in cold blood. The general rule is to only use the amount of force needed to protect yourself, which may include non-lethal methods.

What Are the Legal Presumptions of the Castle Doctrine?

Understanding the legal presumptions of the Castle Doctrine is crucial to ensure you are acted within your rights. To claim that you had a reasonable fear of imminent death, one or more of the following must be true:

  • The intruder unlawfully or forcibly entered your home
  • The homeowner knew or had a reasonable belief that the intruder forcibly entered the home
  • The intruder used force intended to cause bodily injury or death
  • The intruder was not a member of your household

What’s the Difference Between the Castle Doctrine & Stand Your Ground Laws?

The Castle Doctrine dates back to old English Common Law, claiming that if an intruder enters someone’s castle, they have the right to defend it. However, this doctrine doesn’t extend beyond the castle or, to put it in modern terms, one’s home.

That’s where California’s “Stand Your Ground” laws apply. Stand your ground states do not require individuals to retreat or attempt to avoid the danger in order to defend themselves. You are well within your right to “stand your ground” and fight back against an imminent threat to your life.

How to Legally Defend Yourself Outside of Your Home

To lawfully defend yourself outside of the home, the following must be true:

  • The level of force you used was equal to the threat against you
  • You did not instigate the situation
  • The action you took to protect yourself occurred before the threat ended

Similar to the Castle Doctrine, if you had a reasonable fear of imminent death, and you used deadly force to protect yourself, your attorney could claim the justifiable homicide defense. You may be able to claim justifiable homicide in other situations, including the following:

  • Battered woman syndrome – This defense protects women who use deadly force against their abusers
  • Exercise of Duty – This involves law enforcement officers who use deadly force in the line of duty
  • Defense of Others – California’s self-defense laws extend to others who face an imminent threat to their life

Legal Methods of Self-Defense in California

Since the degree of force you may use against an intruder must equal the threat against you, you might have to use non-lethal methods of force, such as personal alarms, pepper spray, and stun guns. However, there are situations where the only option is to use deadly force. In this case, there are certain registered firearms and knives you may lawfully use to defend yourself.

California Penal Code § 16590 lists several weapons that are prohibited, some of which include the following:

  • Ballistic knives
  • Short-barreled rifles or shotguns
  • Large-capacity magazines
  • Undetectable firearms
  • Brass knuckles

Keep in mind that certain individuals might be prohibited from carrying legal weapons, including convicted felons, those addicted to narcotics, individuals convicted of misdemeanors, and individuals with outstanding warrants. If you use deadly force and belong to one of these groups, this fact may be a hurdle in your case.

Fight Back Against Your Charges – Call Today

When you’re facing assault or murder charges, there’s a lot at stake. You could face years in prison, not to mention the collateral consequences you’ll deal with after your sentence. An experienced Oakland criminal defense lawyer at Morris Law can examine the facts of your case and create doubt.

Attorney Seth Morris will negotiate with the prosecution to have weak evidence thrown out in your case and safeguard your future. Contact Morris Law Today at (510) 225-9955 to schedule your free consultation.