Nobles Law Firm

Unarmed intruder? ‘Castle doctrine’ might still apply

54793-adventure-atari-2600-screenshot-get-the-key-to-unlock-the-castleA recent incident down in Winter Haven, Fla., stands as evidence that the castle doctrine still has a place in the 21st century and that it offers a lot more protection than one might think.

What is the castle doctrine? It was initially formed around the time of the Roman Empire and recognizes that “a man’s home is his castle.” In other words, it means that a homeowner need not retreat if his home is invaded. Furthermore, that homeowner can typically use whatever force is necessary to protect himself, his family and his property.

So, what does the castle doctrine have to do with Winter Haven, Fla.? According to the Fox affiliate in that area, an intruder broke into the home of a family in that town. A warning shot was fired, the perpetrator refused to retreat and then the entire family opened fire on him.

That’s right – mom, dad and son all grabbed their firearms and cut down the intruder. The castle doctrine suggests that the intruder was dealt with in a legal way – the family had no need to retreat and its members were well within their rights when they opened fire on the invader.

What’s more, it appears the family members acted within their rights although the intruder was not armed. Under the castle doctrine, an eminent threat is usually enough to justify using self-defense – even deadly force – to defend oneself.

So, is the castle doctrine present in Arkansas? It certainly is. You’ll find it codified at Ark. Code Ann. §5-2-620, which states that the right of a person to defend himself or herself, people residing in the home and property from harm. That code section goes on to say it that it is a rebuttable presumption that the amount of force used to defend life and property in a home is proper.

That’s right. Unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, using even deadly force is probably fine under the castle doctrine in Arkansas so long as the person using it was justified in thinking the invader was in the house to harm people or property.

Keep in mind that the castle doctrine says only that a homeowner doesn’t have to retreat. It does not give a homeowner the right to be an aggressor. Unprovoked attacks – such as one in Arkansas where a homeowner ordered a robber to leave the home and then shot the thief when he complied – are not allowed under the castle doctrine.

But, a lot of this stands to reason, doesn’t it? The right to defend your home does not translate into the right to pick fights when you don’t believe you are in danger.

This column was authored by Ethan C. Nobles and originally appeared in the Dec. 21, 2015, edition of the Daily Record in Little Rock.

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