We are talking about a case that made headlines last week. The story raises questions about the use of deadly force in defense of self or others. Deadly force used against an intruder into a home is justifiable under the “Castle Doctrine,” a legal defense accepted in all states under case law or statute. North Carolina, in fact, just updated its Castle Doctrine statute.
The story that started the discussion took place in another state. A young mother and her baby were hiding in the bedroom as intruders broke into her mobile home and made their way toward the bedroom door. She called 911, explained the situation and asked if it was OK to shoot the men if they came at her and her baby. The dispatcher told her to protect her baby in any way she could. She shot and killed one man; the other fled.
By definition, the Castle Doctrine comes into play when the intrusion is in someone’s home. Some states have extended the justification to intruders in workplaces as well. The doctrine helps you avoid criminal charges if you defend your territory under certain circumstances. You need not retreat.
The current North Carolina law covers a home or “other place of residence.” Courts have broadly defined the terms to include the yard and other buildings, like a barn or detached garage. A home’s porch is included, too, but a prison complex is not considered an inmate’s home.
The 2011 amendment to the North Carolina law applies to offenses occurring on or after Dec. 1, 2011. The statute includes the current definitions of home and residence and adds any temporary or permanent building with a roof over it, including a tent.
Significantly, the amendment expands the defense to a motor vehicle and a workplace. Perhaps the latter is a response to the nursing home shootings in 2009.
Legal commentators have mixed reactions to the expanded law. On one hand, the protection for the use of force may deter crimes like car-jacking and workplace shooting sprees. However, the idea that a suspected intruder can be shot is unsettling to others who fear jittery or trigger-happy coworkers using deadly force against an innocent party.
There is also a question about the need to adopt Castle Doctrine laws at all. Case law reviews do not come up with a single homeowner in any state being prosecuted for defending his “castle.”
North Carolina General Statutes Annotated § 14-51.1, § 14-51.2 via Westlaw
CSMonitor.com, “Oklahoma mom kills home invader,” Patrik Jonsson, Jan. 5, 2012