6 Interesting Castle Doctrine Cases

castle doctrine cases

Most castle doctrine cases tend to include self-defense against home invasions, attempted burglaries, and trespassing.

What is the Castle Doctrine?

The castle doctrine, in general, is a legal rule that allows individuals to use deadly force in self-defense without retreating if they are in their home or dwelling. The castle doctrine is similar to “stand-your-ground laws,” but typically apply only to the home. Twenty-three U.S. states have a castle doctrine law, though the specifics tend to vary state-by-state.

The castle doctrine tends to protect individuals who use force against home invaders from prosecution and liability. In states without the castle doctrine or some other form of stand-your-ground law, individuals would have to attempt to retreat from a violent confrontation and could only use force if such retreat were impossible.

Texas Castle Doctrine Cases

Texas Castle Doctrine

The Texas castle doctrine can be found in the Texas Penal Code, Chapter 9, Subchapter D, which states:

A person in lawful possession of land or tangible, movable property is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to prevent or terminate the other’s trespass on the land or unlawful interference with the property.

The code goes on to provide the permissible uses of deadly force to protect their property, which are:

  1. To prevent imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime
  2. To prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property

However, such uses of deadly force are only permissible if the individual has a reasonable belief that either, “the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means,” or “the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.”

Essentially, this statute means that a Texan can kill a home invader if they believe the invader is going to commit a serious crime or that they have just committed such a crime, and that any lesser use of force would not be sufficient. However, anyone considering home defense should consult with a legal professional before preparing themselves to use deadly force.

Texas Castle Doctrine Cases

  1. In 2008, a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Pasadena, TX resident Joe Horn. Joe Horn shot two immigrant burglars in his front lawn. A 911 dispatcher repeatedly urged him to not engage, but Horn shot both men in the back. They had stolen roughly $2,000. Horn’s lawyers invoked the Texas castle doctrine, and the grand jury declined to indict him.
  2. In 2019, Amber Guyger, a former Dallas police officer who killed her neighbor, Botham Jean, after mistakenly entering his apartment and thinking he was a burglar, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder. Her lawyers unsuccessfully argued a castle doctrine defense, claiming that since Guyger had a reasonable belief that she was defending her own home, she was justified in using deadly force.

South Carolina Castle Doctrine Cases

South Carolina Castle Doctrine

South Carolina’s castle doctrine is laid out in the South Carolina Code of Laws, Title 16, Chapter 11, Article 6. Quite simply, Article 6 states that, “it is the intent of the General Assembly to codify the common law Castle Doctrine which recognizes that a person’s home is his castle and to extend the doctrine to include an occupied vehicle and the person’s place of business.”

The code goes on to specify the limits and special uses for the castle doctrine. Use of deadly force to protect one’s property is legal, but only when an individual has a reasonable fear of imminent danger. Such reasonable fear is presumed if the victim of deadly force is invading or has invaded an individual’s home, dwelling, or vehicle. There are a number of exceptions to this presumption outlined in Section 440 of Article 6.

South Carolina’s castle doctrine also provides immunity from both criminal prosecution and civil liability to those covered, unless the victim of force is a law enforcement officer performing official duties, and only when the officer has identified themselves.

South Carolina Castle Doctrine Cases

  1. In 2012, Whitlee Jones stabbed her boyfriend to death in their shared residence. Her defense claimed that this stabbing was executed in self-defense, and since it occurred in her home, she was immune from prosecution under South Carolina’s castle doctrine. In 2016, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed a circuit court ruling that granted her immunity.
  2. In 2010, Shannon Scott shot at a car that was chasing his daughter. His daughter and her step-sisters had called to explain that they were being chased by another group of teenagers who had a gun. When the car pulled up to his house, he heard a gunshot. He picked up his roommate’s gun and fired so-called “warning shots” at the car, of which at least one struck and killed the driver of the car. Scott was indicted for murder, but the South Carolina affirmed a circuit court ruling that had granted immunity from prosecution under the castle doctrine.

Florida Castle Doctrine Cases

Florida Castle Doctrine

Title XLVI, Chapter 776 of the Florida Statutes establishes the state’s castle doctrine. It allows individuals to use deadly force when protecting their dwelling, residence, or vehicle, as long as they have reason to fear for their life. It eliminates the duty to retreat, grants immunity from prosecution, and presumes a reasonable fear of imminent harm if the intruder is acting unlawfully and forcibly. There are a few exceptions, such as for law enforcement officers in the line of duty or people who have a lawful reason to be in the house.

Florida Castle Doctrine Cases

  1. In 2014, T.J. Schaus shot his girlfriend inside his Mount Dora, FL home. He believed she was a home intruder, though she alleges differently. Since there was not enough evidence to prove so, prosecutors declined to file criminal charges, citing the castle doctrine.
  2. In 2020, a Pasco County homeowner shot and killed two armed alleged home invaders. Their accomplice is was charged with second-degree homicide, while the homeowner was not charged, given the castle doctrine and his right to self-defense.

See also in regards to home defense: Are Red Flag Laws Unconstitutional?