In light of a nation-wide discussion about expanding self-defense laws, as well as an increased recognition of domestic violence, the phrases “stand your ground” and “retreat to the wall” have taken on entirely new meanings. In cases of domestic abuse, which happen largely inside the home, self-defense laws become more difficult to navigate when victims retaliate against their abusers. Generally, individuals using deadly force against their attackers cannot do so until they “retreat to the wall”—until they do everything possible to safely escape the attack and avoid taking a human life. It is then, and only then, that they are justified in using deadly force against their aggressor.
However, an age-old doctrine called the Castle Doctrine, says that an individual does not have an affirmative duty to “retreat to the wall” if that individual is assaulted in her own home. Speaking more succinctly, a person can “stand her ground” in her own “castle” or home; she can use deadly force against an aggressor even if safe retreat is available to her. When it comes to violence between cohabitants, the applicability of the Castle Doctrine is neither clear nor consistent. Traditionally, courts have been reticent in applying this doctrine to cases where the victim and the offender share the same “castle.” Some states still require individuals who are attacked in their own home by a cohabitant to “retreat to the wall,” instead of “standing their ground” against their attacker. As such, some victims of domestic violence find themselves in a precarious situation, having to retreat farther than they would have to if they were being attacked by a stranger.
This Comment analyzes and critiques the applicability of the Castle Doctrine to instances of domestic violence. It begins by analyzing the way the Castle Doctrine has evolved, from its introduction into American law to the modern day. It concludes that a number of courts still struggle in situations where the victim and the aggressor share the same “castle,” often requiring victims of domestic violence to retreat further than they are able to. More so, a number of state legislatures have either not addressed this issue in their laws, or have explicitly identified cohabitant violence as an exception to the Castle Doctrine. This Comment critiques the errors and misconceptions that have led to this misapplication of the Castle Doctrine. Finally, the Comment offers some recommendations that take into account the precarious nature of domestic violence and suggest a more homogenous method for applying the Castle Doctrine to such cases.