North Carolina Revises its ‘Castle Doctrine’

Broadly speaking, the Castle Doctrine is a law that explicates under which circumstances a person can use deadly force against a home intruder.  The term Castle Doctrine is based on an English Common Law provision that one’s home is his/her “castle.”

Lately on, we’ve been discussing how the different states choose to interpret and/or define their own Castle Doctrine law.

For example, we’ve seen how states like Vermont and Colorado require “reasonable belief” that the intruder is going to commit a crime or harm the occupant (or his/her family) before deadly force becomes lawful and we’ve seen how other states like Florida and Texas have instituted a Castle Doctrine law which includes the presumption that if an intruder is in one’s home, he’s not there to ‘play nice’ so deadly force is justified.

North Carolina has just revised its Castle Doctrine law and the new provisions took effect last Thursday.  The question is, did NC expand the rights of homeowners and law-abiding citizens?  Or did they make revisions to benefit would-be burglars and intruders?

For starters, NC’s old version of the law read as follows, “A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence is justified in using any degree of force that the occupant reasonably believes is necessary, including deadly force, against an intruder to prevent a forcible entry into the home or residence or to terminate the intruder’s unlawful entry if the occupant reasonably apprehends that the intruder may kill or inflict serious bodily harm to the occupant or others in the home or residence, or if the occupant reasonably believes that the intruder intends to commit a felony in the home or residence.”

castle doctrine warning house signIt also said, “A lawful occupant within a home or other place of residence does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder in the circumstances described in this section.”

One will notice the phrases “reasonably apprehends” and “reasonably believes.”  Essentially, under the old law, the fact that an intruder is trying to break into your house or the fact that an intruder is in your house is not, by itself, enough to justify deadly force.  An occupant must establish that he/she had ‘reasonably believed’ that the intruder was going to cause serious physical harm or commit a felony (does the average home owner know the difference between a felony and misdemeanor?).

This ‘reasonably believes’ phrase is a subjective term.  It can mean different things to different people depending on a variety of factors: the context, circumstances, the district attorney investigating the case, etc.

Knowing this, NC decided to extract some of the subjectivity from its Castle Doctrine law.  The new law presumes that “a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter one of these locations [home, workplace, vehicle] intends to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.”

Moreover, the new law expands the Castle Doctrine to vehicles and places of work.

Here is the new law, as described in detail by the NC’s Journal Patriot:

The new law defines a person’s home as any property with a roof where the person lives and also includes “curtilage,” which is the area immediately around a home. It defines a person’s workplace as any property with a roof used for commercial purposes. It says a home or workplace can be temporary or permanent and specifically says either one can be a tent.

stock photo of robbers breaking in houseUnder the new law, the lawful occupant of a home, motor vehicle or workplace isn’t required to retreat prior to using deadly force.

The new law presumes that a person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter one of these locations intends to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

The new law presumes that a lawful occupant of a home, motor vehicle or workplace reasonably fears imminent death or serious bodily harm to himself, herself or another when using defensive force likely to cause death or serious injury if:

• the person against whom defensive force was used was unlawfully and forcefully entering or had already entered a motor vehicle, or workplace, or if the person had taken or was trying to take another person against his will from the home, motor vehicle or workplace;

• the person using defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

So, essentially, if an intruder breaks into a NC resident’s home, workplace, or vehicle, the resident does not need to wait until the intruder tries to commit a felony or inflict bodily harm on the occupant to use deadly force.  The presumption of bodily harm and felonious behavior is now embedded in the law.

The new law also highlights situations were deadly force is not lawful.  These are somewhat obvious.  For example, a NC resident can’t use deadly force against someone who has a lawful right to occupy the home, workplace, and/or motor vehicle (one can’t shoot his roommate), or against a lawful guardian of a child or grandchild (one can’t shoot his former mother-in-law if she has the legal right to spend time with a grandchild).

Also, if the individual using deadly force is engaged in criminal activity, he/she is not justified in using deadly force against someone else.  Moreover, NC residents can’t shoot bail bondsman or police officers performing official duties.

And lastly, one can’t use deadly force against one who has discontinued efforts to unlawfully and forcefully enter the home, motor vehicle or workplace and has exited those locations (one can’t shoot someone who is running away).

For more information on N.C.’s new Castle Doctrine, click here.

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