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What Is The “Castle Doctrine” And How Is It Used in Criminal Trials?


News headlines have been dominated by the trial of the police officer who allegedly shot what she thought was an intruder because she entered the wrong apartment and, believing it to be her own, mistakenly thought that someone had broken in. Although the incident and trial are located in Texas, Florida has a similar “castle doctrine,” which essentially justifies the use of lethal force when (and thus bars the criminal prosecution of someone who was in the processing of) protecting one’s property—a version of the self-defense argument. The defense is similar to that of the ‘stand your ground’ law/defense that exists in Florida and other states.

Still, stand your ground laws have come under scrutiny in recent years; most notably due to the apparent racial and civil rights issues that are often involved: According to one study, for example, black defendants who cite stand your ground as a defense are convicted almost 100 percent of the time, while white defendants are acquitted at least 10 percent of the time; one of the most notorious examples here in Florida being the shooting of unarmed minor Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch point person George Zimmerman, who was acquitted.

The Doctrine On Trial in Officer’s Case

The current case involving the officer who thought that she was in her own apartment and shot the resident who was currently (and rightfully) there – believing him to be an intruder – involves applying the castle doctrine in an especially broad and unique way. Here, the defendant’s argument does not rely on the victim being an actual threat to life or safety, but rather the defendant simply believing that force was necessary to prevent trespass—even though the individual who was technically trespassing was the defendant to shot the lawful resident. As a result, in terms of the traditional use and application of the castle doctrine, in this case, it would have been the victim who technically had the right to use lethal force against the shooter who had entered his apartment. Still, the issue once again brings up racial issues, as the shooter in this case was a white police officer and the individual shot—who was rightfully on his own property—was a black male.

Indeed, although convicted, the shooter was given only a 10-year sentence for homicide by the jury instead of receiving life in prison, indicating that the defense arguably – successfully – played a part in the trial.

Contact Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorney If You Have Questions or Concerns About a Criminal Charge

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime and were acting out of self-defense because someone forced their way into your home or car and you believed you had to use force to prevent great bodily harm or death, contact our West Palm Beach criminal attorney at the office of William Wallshein, P.A. today to find out how we can help.





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