Many people in California may look at claims of self-defense by individuals facing criminal charges with a certain degree of scrutiny. This no doubt comes from the assumption that an altercation must have two willing participants.
Yet at the same time, most people recognize that there are situations where individuals feel compelled to defend themselves (and others). The question then becomes to what extent does the law allow one to react to a threat with force.
Understanding the castle doctrine
Each state sets its own self-defense laws. Most are rooted in one of two legal philosophies: “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine.” The former suggests that you have no duty to retreat from a situation in which they feel threatened. That right extends to almost any situation in a variety of different locations.
The castle doctrine, on the other hand, is not as far-reaching. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, this philosophy allows individuals to use force — even deadly force — to protect themselves and their loved ones from unlawful intrusions into their homes.
Reviewing California’s self-defense law
Which philosophy does California subscribe to? Under Section 198.5 of California’s Penal Code, the state’s self-defense law seems to mirror castle doctrine. The law states that authorities assume an individual had a reasonable fear of suffering death or serious injury when someone attempted to break into their home. By extension, that fear justifies the use of defensive action.
There are of course exceptions to this rule. For example, a person typically cannot act against another who attempts to enter a residence where that other person is legally entitled to be. Also, people cannot typically act against law enforcement officers attempting to execute their duties.