Last week, a homeowner in Georgia killed three masked men at his home. The three allegedly approached the home and attempted to rob three people in the front yard. One of the men brandished a weapon when the homeowner pulled his handgun, killing all three purported robbers. This gives rise to an issue lodged in the 2nd Amendment but clarified in Washington (amongst other states) to provide protection in and around your home.
The `Castle` Doctrine – also known as the defense of habitation law is not specifically enumerated in statute. However, Washington courts have extended the defense to Washington citizens. The doctrine provides that a homeowner has the legal right to defend themselves from external threats in certain situations. More specifically, the individual may have the authority to use deadly force against an intruder, free of potential criminal or civil liability. This type of law has recently held that this “no duty to retreat” may apply in any area where you may legally have a right to remain. This could apply to your office, your car, your home, etc.
To apply, the homeowner must reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death while their property is being invaded. Obviously, this applies to home invasions or robberies most often. This is also known as justifiable homicide when deadly force is used. When the actor reasonably fears, imminent peril of death or serious bodily harm to him or herself or another, the Castle Doctrine may apply.
Be wary, however, if you initiated the aggression. While in a home invasion setting, it is typically clear who the first aggressor was, in other scenarios, it might not be as clear. If you were the initial aggressor of a violent situation, the Castle Doctrine may not apply. Generally, the right to self defense cannot be invoked by the individual who provoked the altercation. And, Washington law provides that only if the aggressor retreats sufficiently to allow the other party the opportunity to realize they are no longer a threat in aggressive action will the initial aggressor have the opportunity to claim self-defense.
Washington does provide some protection for you and your loved ones during violent interactions. While the Castle Doctrine increases that protection in your home, it is not absolute. If you have questions about your rights, call a qualified and experienced attorney. At Magnuson Lowell PS, we fight for your rights.