Idaho’s “Castle Doctrine” law has been a hot topic recently among those who own firearms for personal defense. The term “Castle Doctrine” refers to laws designed to give people extra legal protection when exercising force in self-defense in one’s own home. Idaho’s Castle Doctrine in its current form is fairly confusing and very limited in its application.
As an attorney and firearms instructor, I frequently lead classes about the legalities of using handguns in self-defense. Instead of relying on Idaho’s castle doctrine, I just recommend that they rely on simple provisions of self-defense law. Imprinted in the minds of nearly all of us is the idea that we should be able to expect to be safe in our own homes. I think that the average juror is willing to give this presumption for self-defense against a home intruder, whether or not you tell that juror to do so.
The relevant portion of Idaho’s “Castle Doctrine” statute says:
Homicide is also justifiable when committed by any person in either of the following cases:
[ ] 2. When committed in defense of habitation, property or person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony, or against one who manifestly intends and endeavors, in a violent, riotous or tumultuous manner, to enter the habitation of another for the purpose of offering violence to any person therein [ ]. Idaho Code §18-4009(2)
The first glaring weakness of this code is that it only applies for homicides. People using force in self-defense in their own homes get no help from this law unless the subject dies.
The utility of this code section is further limited by its restrictive language, such as “manifestly intends and endeavors, in a violent, riotous or tumultuous manner [ ].” This existing law might be useful to help a person who has used lethal force in self-defense, but realistically no one would be making this kind of an evaluation in the split seconds required to make a self-defense decision.
CASTLE DOCTRINE: THE SHOWER SHOOTER AND ABSOLUTION PROBLEM
It was on about April 3, 2017, that Nathaniel Rosa, 31, and friends were sending off a friend who was being deployed to Afghanistan. They went to some bars before visiting a friend’s home. Rosa was an elementary school educator at Bothel, Washington. (NBC and Fox news)
On the morning of April 4, Bruce Fanning, 59, discovered a stranger showering in one of his two residences. Fanning lives in one residence and runs a business out of the second. Fanning told investigators that he ran from the scene to his other house, grabbed a gun, then returned and shot the showering intruder four times through the shower curtain. Fanning told police he thought the stranger was drunk and claimed he made threats. The intruder, Rosa, had apparently forced entry into the residence. Fanning was charged with murder.
There seems to be no rational argument that an unclothed, showering man posed an actual personal threat to the property owner, let alone an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.
It is more comparable to assassination than self-defense.
A challenge in crafting any Castle Doctrine law is to avoid an unjust result by granting legal exoneration to a person who has apparently made an unjustifiable killing. The 2017 Idaho Legislature had two pieces of proposed legislation regarding Castle Doctrine law. One never made it past printing. A second was brought into the Idaho Senate where it never received a hearing or action. Both had very different approaches to handling Castle Doctrine issues.
Without going into details, both, by virtue of the forced entry, would have apparently exonerated a person like our shower shooter.
I believe that the innocent home or vehicle occupant could have some additional legal protection in self-defense incidents by addition of a different law. A new subsection might be added as follows:
Idaho Code §19-202 (3). If a court determines that occupation of a habitation or vehicle by a defendant are relevant facts to a case involving self-defense, a trier of fact may be asked to consider whether a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have believed that he or another innocent person was in imminent danger resulting from the actual or attempted unlawful entry of another person into a habitation or vehicle. Such a threat from an unlawful entry by an intruder may then justify use of force by a defendant for defense of oneself or another innocent person. This provision shall not modify or limit the legal defense of Self-Defense.
This would add unlawful entry as a specific potential source of threat to an occupant of a habitation or vehicle. A jury could be asked whether this unlawful entry gave rise to the threat which justified use of force. Instead of relying on some presumption in the backs of the minds of jurors for safety and security in one’s own home, a new jury instruction could place the concept clearly in front of the jury.
It is not a perfect solution to Castle Doctrine issues. However, it is a workable solution.
It also would be much more practical and useful than Idaho’s existing Castle Doctrine law.