I want to talk today about some practical uses of our Castle Doctrine here in Colorado and how that might be applicable to you in the unfortunate circumstance where you may be dealing with an intruder.
Castle Doctrine in Colorado
Quick refresher on the Castle Doctrine: it is a pre-trial motion to dismiss a criminal case arguing legal justification for the use of force in self-defense or defense of others inside your residence. We are saying to the judge that you were inside of your residence, there was an intruder committing some crime in addition to unlawful entry, and that you believed or you had reason to believe the intruder was going to use some amount of force against either you or a third party inside of the residence.
In that situation, you would be eligible to argue justification under the Castle Doctrine. It’s different than our self-defense statutes which are raised as an affirmative defense at trial—the Castle Doctrine is unique in that it is done pre-trial. You would file this as a motion to dismiss that would grant you immunity from the criminal proceeding or a later civil proceeding.
Let’s talk about how that might be used in a day-to-day sense. Let’s say you’re in your house with your family. There is an intruder, perhaps downstairs, and he or she is going through some of your items. So it seems like in addition to the unlawful entry, they are committing a burglary which, based upon these facts, would start to get you in the range of the Castle Doctrine.
You begin to confront the intruder. If the intruder turns and runs out of your house, you would not have a reasonable belief that that intruder was about to use an amount of force against you or somebody else. It’s unlikely that the Castle Doctrine would be applicable. The Castle Doctrine does not apply unless you reasonably believe the intruder is about to use any amount of force against your or someone else inside of your home.
However, if the intruder instead turned towards you in an aggressive way, such as running towards you or flashing some sort of a weapon (or what you believed to be a weapon), then the Castle Doctrine would be applicable. It’s something that we could raise as a pre-trial motion to dismiss.
Now, if you are outside of your residence, either in your front yard or in a detached garage or similar, the Castle Doctrine would not be applicable. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t try to file this motion and litigate that this was an extension of your residence, but it’s very likely that a judge would rule against you in that situation.
Temporary Residences and the Castle Doctrine
I am commonly asked (especially during the summer) if an RV is considered a residence. I don’t believe so. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t raise this as an argument in a motion to dismiss based upon our Castle Doctrine. Unfortunately, it’s very likely that a judge would say, “Look, this does not fit the traditional ideas of a residence. Where do we end this?”
What if you were sleeping in your car for the night? Would you be able to argue the Castle Doctrine if someone is trying to burglarize your motor vehicle and you shoot and kill them? This is a slippery slope, and a judge would likely stick to the traditional ideas of what we believe a residence to be.
Dealing with Trespassers
Finally, if you are on your property and notice a trespasser, you cannot immediately approach and use force or deadly force to attack them. They may be lost or may be up to no good, but at that moment you don’t know the difference.
That trespasser has to be doing something that would check the boxes for the Castle Doctrine. Or, if you’re outside of the residence, they would have to be doing something that would check the boxes for you to use either force or deadly force in defense of yourself or a third party. As we’ve talked about on many other videos, that really examines the reasonableness of your conduct under the circumstances.
If you’ve got any questions about this or anything else, feel free to call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to an Independent Program Attorney. I’m always happy to talk to U.S. LawShield members.