We all remember watching movies about kings and queens and knights who ruled over and protected their kingdoms and their castles, right? Have you ever watched Game of Thrones? I mean...who hasn't? Believe it or not, that's kind of involved in the blog topic you're about to read. No, I don't have more stories of The Seven Kingdoms, Jon Snow, Ned Stark or Tyrion Lannister. Sorry about that. But even though these characters are fictional and come from a world that never existed, there are certain elements that will serve my purpose in explaining Alabama's Castle Doctrine perfectly!
Alabama is one of the many states in this country that have a legal doctrine commonly known as The Castle Doctrine woven into the fabric of state law. The Castle Doctrine espouses a legal theory or philosophy that every person is an actual king or queen of their dwelling. That legal philosophy asserts that a king or queen never has to "flee their castle" (their home, their business property, or their vehicle) before being presumptively permitted to use deadly physical force against an intruder if the use of such force is lawfully permitted. Alabama's written legal version of The Castle Doctrine can be found in Alabama's Title 13A-3-23. In addition to reading this most important chapter on Defenses according to Alabama state law, I would strongly suggest that you read my two previous blogs addressing the use of deadly force as a means of self-defense and Alabama's Stand Your Ground Law. Your your convenience I have provided quick links to those blogs at the conclusion of this blog. Read on....winter is coming....
I want you to think about Alabama's Castle Doctrine as nothing more than Alabama's Stand Your Ground protection in three (3) specific locations:
- Your dwelling
- Your business property
- Your occupied vehicle
So lets unpack this a little more for some additional clarification...
Alabama defines a dwelling as building that is normally used by a person for living, sleeping or lodging therein [13A-7-1(2)]. That could mean your home, your apartment, your hotel room, or possibly even your tent or RV if you're camping!
Think of your business property as the store or office that you own or operate.
This means the car or truck or RV or motorcycle that you are riding in, driving in or operating. The key to this term and the Castle Doctrine is that the vehicle must be occupied! When the law addresses the concept of an occupied vehicle and the use of The Castle Doctrine and deadly force, think about what comes to mind when someone uses the term "carjacking." This isn't a viable defense for your unoccupied car sitting in your driveway.
So when do you get the protections availed by Alabama's Castle Doctrine?
Alabama law states that if you reasonably (there's that vague and ambiguous word again!) believe that another person is in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering your dwelling, business property, or occupied vehicle (or HAS unlawfully and forcibly entered your dwelling, business property, or occupied vehicle)....OR....You reasonably believe that another person is attempting to unlawfully or has forcibly removed a person against their will from their dwelling, business property or occupied vehicle...Alabama law gives you (the person using deadly physical force) the legal presumption that your use of deadly physical force was justified. The Castle Doctrine DOES NOT allow you to use deadly physical force against a law enforcement officer who is acting in his or her LAWFUL CAPACITY. So if a police officer is in the process of evicting you from your home or is assisting DHR in removing a child from their home under a lawful court order, YOU CANNOT USE DEADLY PHYSICAL FORCE!!
But here's a huge caveat....that presumption is legally rebuttable...which is fancy lawyer-speak that means while you are presumed to be within your rights of using deadly physical force, the state may produce evidence at trial that shows that you had no legal justification to use deadly physical force. It is The Fact Finder (a judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial) who will determine IF in fact you were legally justified in the use of deadly physical force in any given situation. If you were NOT JUSTIFIED in using deadly physical force, you very well could spend the rest of your life in the penitentiary.
So let's summarize Alabama's Castle Doctrine. In order to avail yourself the legal defense protection provided in The Castle Doctrine when you you deadly physical force against another while in your dwelling, your business property, or your occupied vehicle, you must:
- Be legally justified to use force
- The force must be deemed to be "reasonable" in its scope
- Not be the instigator of the confrontation
- Not be committing a crime or participating in a criminal act
- Be at a location where you are permitted to be