Stand Your Ground Laws and “Castle Doctrine” for Post-Election Madness

Election Day! Who knows what’s going to happen tonight and the next few days. Understand your state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, if it has one. And if not, understand what the self defense laws are in your state. As of January 1, 2020, 34 states have stand-your-ground laws or have expanded castle doctrine to apply beyond the home. Eight states have expanded castle doctrine to motor vehicles or the workplace.

“There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.”

 – George Washington

“The right of self-defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals.”

 – James Monroe, Second annual message to Congress, November 16, 1818

“Our nation was built and civilized by men and women who used guns in self-defense and in pursuit of peace. One wonders indeed, if the rising crime rate, isn’t due as much as anything to the criminal’s instinctive knowledge that the average victim no longer has means of self-protection.”

 – Ronald Reagan

The criminal does not expect his prey to fight back. May he never choose you, but, if he does, surprise him.

 – Jeff Cooper

“Though violence is not lawful, when it is offered in self-defense or for the defense of the defenseless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.”

 – Mahatma Gandhi

CASTLE DOCTRINE

Standard castle doctrine states that a person in his or her own home does not have a duty to retreat prior to using force, including deadly force, in self-defense.

‘STAND YOUR GROUND’ LAW

A stand-your-ground law varies by state, and generally provides that people may use deadly force when they reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend against a threat of death, serious bodily harm, and other serious crimes, differing slightly between states, without there being a duty to retreat before using such deadly force in self-defense. 

It is generally required that the individual who is standing his ground be in a place where he or she is lawfully present. Stand-your-ground laws generally cannot be invoked by someone who is the initial aggressor, or who is otherwise engaged in criminal activity. The exact details vary by jurisdiction.

YE OLD DUTY TO RETREAT

The alternative to stand your ground is “duty to retreat.” In states that implement a duty to retreat, even a person who is unlawfully attacked (or who is defending someone who is unlawfully attacked) may not use deadly force if it is possible to instead avoid the danger with complete safety by retreating.

Even duty-to-retreat states generally follow the “castle doctrine,” under which people have no duty to retreat when they are attacked in their homes, or (in some states) in their vehicles or workplaces.

BREAKDOWN OF STATES

Laws in at least 25 states allow that there is no duty to retreat an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.  

(Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.)  

At least ten of those states include language stating one may “stand his or her ground.”  (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.)

Pennsylvania’s law, amended in 2011, distinguishes use of deadly force outside one’s home or vehicle.  It provides that in such locations one cannot use deadly force unless he has reasonable belief of imminent death or injury, and either he or she cannot retreat in safety or the attacker displays or uses a lethal weapon. 

Idaho’s law, passed in 2018, expanded the definition of justifiable homicide to include not only defending one’s home against an intruder, but also defending one’s place of employment or an occupied vehicle.

Self-defense laws in at least 23 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee West Virginia and Wisconsin) provide civil immunity under certain self- defense circumstances.

Statutes in at least six states (Hawaii, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and Tennessee) assert that civil remedies are unaffected by criminal provisions of self-defense law.

*In 2018, the Ohio House and Senate voted to override the Governor’s veto of House Bill 228. The bill places the burden of disproving a self-defense claim on the prosecution.

WEST VIRGINIA, SPECIFICALLY: 

West Virginia is a “stand your ground state,” and does not require a person to retreat before using force, including deadly force: 

(a) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using reasonable and proportionate force, including deadly force, against an intruder or attacker to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder’s or attacker’s unlawful entry if the occupant reasonably apprehends that the intruder or attacker may kill or inflict serious bodily harm upon the occupant or others in the home or residence or if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder or attacker intends to commit a felony in the home or residence and the occupant reasonably believes deadly force is necessary. 

(b) A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder or attacker in the circumstances described in subsection (a) of this section. 

(c) A person not engaged in unlawful activity who is attacked in any place he or she has a legal right to be outside of his or her home or residence may use reasonable and proportionate force against an intruder or attacker: Provided, That such person may use deadly force against an intruder or attacker in a place that is not his or her residence without a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that he or she or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she or another can only be saved by the use of deadly force against the intruder or attacker. 

(d) The justified use of reasonable and proportionate force under this section shall constitute a full and complete defense to any civil action brought by an intruder or attacker against a person using such force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(a)-(d). 

WV EXCEPTIONS:

Of course, there are exceptions. The absolute immunity afforded by Section 55-7-22 does not apply in the following circumstances: 

– The person who would invoke Section 55-7-22 was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping from the commission of a felony; 

– The person initially provoked the use of force against himself, herself, or another with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; 

– Otherwise initially provokes the use of force against himself, herself, or another, unless the individual withdraws from the physical contact and clearly indicates to the assailant the desire to withdraw, but the assailant continues to use force. 

W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(e)(1)-(3). Case law considering Section 55-7-22 is sparse. See State v. Samuel (No. 13-0273, Mem. Dec.) (Nov. 8, 2013); United States v. Matheny (No. 2:12-CR-00068, S.D. W. Va., May 8, 2012). 

STILL NO BOOBY TRAPS:

Nothing in Section 55-7-22, however, permits the creation of a hazardous condition on or in real or personal property designed to prevent criminal conduct or cause injury to a person engaging in criminal conduct (e.g., spring-loaded shotguns). Nor does Section 55-7-22 authorize or justify a person to resist or obstruct a law-enforcement officer acting in the course of his or her duty. W. Va. Code § 55-7-22(g). 

INFORMATION ON THE LEMASTER CASE I DISCUSSED:

That time my client was shot through his front door

Here’s the original dash cam footage and audio from a case I handled a few years back that’s educational in several respects. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this footage, in my mind, is towards the end of the video, where you hear a state trooper come up to the deputy sheriff who had shot my client, and inform him that he was going to be the officer investigating the shooting, and basically told him to stop talking, and to go home and sleep on it first. Indeed, once he did so, the narrative changed from what can be heard in the video.

You hear the shooter tell his version of what had occurred three times at the scene. None of which suggested that the shooting was justified. Not surprisingly, the official written statement which comes out a few days later, is nothing like what he said three times at the scene. Instead, the shooter later claimed to have seen my client with a gun before he fired.

Here are the rounds which traveled through the door.

Also, you can see the boot print from where he kicked the door:

Since this was a police shooting of someone who was not yet in police custody, the legality of the use of force is judged using the Fourth Amendment, under the “Graham Factors.” Here are the actual jury instructions which were to be used at the jury trial:

Your verdict must be for the plaintiff (and against the defendant) for violation of the plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from excessive force if all the following elements have been proved:

First, the defendant shot the plaintiff through the front door of his home, and

Second, the force used was excessive because it was not reasonably necessary to shoot the plaintiff through his front door in order to interview the plaintiff, and

Third, the defendant was acting under color of state law.

In determining whether the force was “excessive,” you must consider: the need for the application of force; the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used; the extent of the injury inflicted; and whether a reasonable officer on the scene, without the benefit of hindsight, would have used that much force under similar circumstances.  You should keep in mind that the decision about how much force to use often must be made in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly changing. 

Deadly force may be used only if it is reasonably believed necessary to prevent a significant threat of death or serious physical harm to the officer or others.  A warning must be given, if possible, before deadly force may be used.  You must decide whether the officer’s actions were reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting the officer without regard to the officer’s own state of mind, intention or motivation.  In making this determination, you may take into account the severity of the crime at issue, whether the plaintiff posed an immediate threat to the safety of the defendant or others, and whether the plaintiff actively resisted arrest or attempted to evade arrest by flight.

If any of the above elements has not been proved, then your verdict must be for the defendant. “Deadly force” is force intended or reasonably likely to cause death or serious physical injury.

This is essentially the same test which is used in criminal prosecutions of police officers for excessive force violations – i.e., Breonna Taylor, and so on. There never was a criminal charge against this particular officer. The West Virginia State Police performed the official investigation and found that the shooting was justified. Thus, our lawsuit was the only litigation connected to it. Ultimately, we settled the case – only days before trial.

No Knock” Warrants and Search and Seizure Law Inside the Home

“No Knocks” are in the news following the Breonna Taylor shooting case. What is a “No Knock” warrant and when/how are they legal under federal constitutional law? One of my favorite topics. By favorite I mean that if I was a middle eastern dictator they would flow freely. This has been in the news now following the Breonna Taylor case. I’ll offer some analysis on that case, and also answer other civil rights constitutional law questions, if you have any – since this is LIVE.

Podcast version (audio only):

"No Knock" Warrants and Civil Rights Q&A – FIS Live Ep. 16 – thecivilrightslawyer.com Freedom is Scary

"No Knocks" are in the news following the Breonna Taylor shooting case. What is a "No Knock" warrant and when/how are they legal under federal constitutional law? One of my favorite topics. By favorite I mean that if I was a middle eastern dictator they would flow freely. This has been in the news now following the Breonna Taylor case. I'll offer some analysis on that case, and also answer other civil rights constitutional law questions, if you have any – since this is LIVE.This is the FREEDOM IS SCARY livecast Episode 16. Please join me. It seems to be happening every Monday evening……thecivilrightslawyer.com
  1. "No Knock" Warrants and Civil Rights Q&A – FIS Live Ep. 16 – thecivilrightslawyer.com
  2. Should RBG be Replaced Now? – a Lawyer's Perspective – Freedom is Scary, Ep. 15

Searches and Seizures in the Home and No-Knock Warrants, i.e., the “Knock and Announce” Requirement, Generally:

In the Home: No Warrant? Presumptively Illegal: Searches and seizures which take place in a person’s home are presumptively unreasonable, which means they are illegal by default according to the Fourth Amendment. On the other hand, outside a person’s home, Fourth Amendment protections only apply where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Outside the Home: No Warrant? No Need unless REP: To the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that no presumption exists outside the home, because a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy for most “places” outside one’s own home. These unprotected “places” include bank accounts, curbside trash, “open fields,” surrounding one’s home, and so on. 

Search of home with a warrant: presumptively legal: So since the inverse is true, all searches of a home, made pursuant to a warrant are presumptively reasonable. The standard for a warrant requires only that “there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.” It is still a requirement, obviously, that police officers tell the truth when they make their search warrant applications. If it is discovered that false information was intentionally provided to the magistrate, the warrant will be fraudulent, and therefore ineffective. At which point, we’re back to the search being presumptively unreasonable. During the execution of a lawfully-obtained search warrant, officers may temporarily seize the inhabitants of the structure being searched, including handcuffing them. 

There is a default “knock and announce” requirement under the Constitution, though it frequently is ignored. Can officers make, or apply, for a no knock entry just b/c the homeowner has a CCW? Check out the 4th Circuit case out of West Virginia, Bellotte v. Edwards (4th Cir. 2011), authored by Judge Wilkinson. Judge Gregory was also on the panel:

 The knock-and-announce requirement has long been a fixture in law. Gould v. Davis, 165 F.3d 265, 270 (4th Cir. 1998). Before forcibly entering a residence, police officers “must knock on the door and announce their identity and purpose.” Richards v. Wisconsin, 520 U.S. 385, 387 (1997)….

“In order to justify a ‘no-knock’ entry, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that knocking and announcing their presence, under the particular circumstances, would be dangerous or futile, or that it would inhibit the effective investigation of the crime by, for example, allowing the destruction of evidence.” Richards, 520 U.S. at 394. The Supreme Court has admonished that “it is the duty of a court confronted with the question to determine whether the facts and circumstances of the particular entry justified dispensing with the knock-and-announce requirement.” Id. We have thus required a particularized basis for any suspicion that would justify a no-knock entry. See United States v. Dunnock, 295 F.3d 431, 434 (4th Cir. 2002)…..

Of course, the absence of a no-knock warrant “should not be interpreted to remove the officers’ authority to exercise independent judgment concerning the wisdom of a no-knock entry at the time the warrant is being executed.” Richards, 520 U.S. at 396 n.7. But where, as here, the officers faced no barrier at all to seeking no-knock authorization at the time they obtained a warrant, “a strong preference for warrants” leads us to view their choice not to seek no-knock authorization with some skepticism. United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897, 914 (1984)….

To permit a no-knock entry on facts this paltry would be to regularize the practice. Our cases allow officers the latitude to effect dynamic entries when their safety is at stake, but the Fourth Amendment does not regard as reasonable an entry with echoes, however faint, of the totalitarian state…..

It should go without saying that carrying a concealed weapon pursuant to a valid concealed carry permit is a lawful act. The officers admitted at oral argument, moreover, that “most people in West Virginia have guns.” Most importantly, we have earlier rejected this contention: “If the officers are correct, then the knock and announcement requirement would never apply in the search of anyone’s home who legally owned a firearm.” Gould, 165 F.3d at 272; accord United States v. Smith, 386 F.3d 753, 760 (6th Cir. 2004); United States v. Marts, 986 F.2d 1216, 1218 (8th Cir. 1993). We recognized over a decade ago that “[t]his clearly was not and is not the law, and no reasonable officer could have believed it to be so.” Gould, 165 F.3d at 272.

Bellotte v. Edwards (4th Cir. 2011).

More analysis of Kenosha

What are our “rights” as law abiding citizens and/or property owners, when it comes to violent rioters or protestors? Are AR-15s treated differently? Episode 9 of FIS gets to the heart of the concept that “freedom is scary,” so questions need to be discussed. Join me LIVE and bring your own questions, if you’ve got them. Here are some good ones:

Can you unlawfully possess a firearm and then lawfully use that firearm in a self defense situation? 

Can you and should you be able to defend private property with deadly force, and if not, can the law be changed in your state?  

Were there new information releases today relevant to the probable legality of self defense for Kyle Rittenhouse? 

Does the mention of “militia” in the 2nd Amendment have any applicability?  

What federal circuit covers Wisconsin and has it been favorable to the exercise of 2nd Amendment rights and the right of self defense in the context of AR-15 style rifles?