Can You Shoot Someone Who Breaks Into Your House?

by Ambrosio Rodriguez | Aug 31, 2020 | California Law
Can You Shoot Someone Who Breaks Into Your House?

One question people across the country often wrestle with is what to do in the event someone breaks into your home. Would you shoot an intruder in order to protect yourself and your family? Legally speaking, can you?

Because self-defense laws vary by state, the answer to this question depends on where you call home. In California, the short answer is yes, if someone breaks into your home you do have the right to shoot them. There are, however, a number of factors that need to be weighed, and because in an emergency you won’t have time to draw up a thorough pro-con chart, it is best to give thought to questions like this one long before you would ever need to.

As a California resident, it is wise to familiarize yourself with our state’s self-defense laws. It is also a good idea to know and understand California’s Castle Doctrine and how it differs from so-called stand-your-ground laws that are popular in many states around the country. 

California Self-Defense Laws

The right to use force in an effort to protect yourself is not something unique to the state of California. Like in many other states, if you can show that you acted to defend yourself or someone else, that you perceived harm or danger, and that your response was reasonable, you have a good case for claiming self-defense.

Castle Doctrine

The same holds true when you are in your own home. In California, this is often referred to as the “Castle Doctrine.” The Castle Doctrine, as outlined in the California Penal Code 198.5, maintains that you do not need to retreat or leave your home if someone breaks in, and you can use deadly force if necessary to protect yourself or someone else.

Stand-Your-Ground Laws

It should be noted at this point, that even though this sounds like the stand your ground laws that have become popular in many states around the country, there are several key differences. 

The first is that the Castle Doctrine only applies to a person’s rights when they are in their own home or on their own property. Stand-your ground laws apply no matter where a person is. 

The second key difference is that in stand-your-ground states, you do not need to attempt to retreat from a threatening situation before using deadly force in order to claim self-defense. In Castle Doctrine states like California, unless you are in your home, you do need to at least attempt to leave a threatening situation before you can use deadly force and still claim self-defense.

Finally, you cannot use deadly force when a person is on your property if they have not shown themselves to be threatening. They would need to take the first step toward a threatening situation for you to use deadly force and still be able to claim self-defense. The standard is usually lower, however, if the person has entered your home.

While these differences may seem small on the surface, they can have significant legal implications. 

Claiming Self-Defense

It is also important to mention at this point that there are several questions you have to be able to answer yes to in order to be able to claim self-defense. The questions are

  • Did you believe you were in imminent danger of suffering harm or injury?
  • Did you believe that the use of force was necessary to protect yourself or someone else?
  • Did you use no more force than was necessary to protect yourself?

If you can answer yes to those three questions there is a good chance you can claim self-defense if you shoot someone who has broken into your home.

Contact an Attorney If You’re Facing Criminal Charges

If you have, or ever have to use self-defense in your home to protect yourself or your family, you should seek legal representation. A self-defense claim is at least in part an admission of doing something that under normal circumstances is against the law. While you might feel you have an air-tight case, there are legal complexities to claiming self-defense that are best handled with the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney.

Criminal defense lawyers understand the standards that are used for “imminent threat,” “necessary force,” and what is meant by the term “reasonable.” Criminal defense attorneys also know how juries are instructed to gauge a defendant’s claim of self-defense and have experience walking clients through the entire judicial process from beginning to end.