Tag Archive for Home protection

What is Castle Doctrine?

I was in an online discussion today where the topic of Castle Doctrine came up and there were quite a few statements made exposing misconceptions about what it really means.

In Ohio, like many states, there are very specific circumstances when deadly force is “allowed” to be used. I put that in quotes because killing or intentionally seriously injuring another person is illegal. When you make a claim of self-defense, you are actually admitting to a crime! However, you are attempting to invoke an “affirmative defense” that excuses your actions. If you meet all of the criteria you are more likely to be found to be justified.

The first set of criteria they are looked at are referred to as Jeopardy, Ability, and Means. Jeopardy means you were in real danger of serious bodily harm or death.

Ability means that the other person had the capability to cause that serious bodily harm or death. An example of the difference is that a small, frail, 90-year-old man may wish to harm a fit, young man but does not possess the strength to do so. However, if that old man had a weapon (known as a force multiplier) now he has ability.

Means, also known as Opportunity, is being able to reach you with his Ability. For example, a person may intend to harm you and is armed with a gun but is threatening you on the phone. There may be Jeopardy and Ability but lacking the Means you can’t just hunt him down.

When it comes to proving Jeopardy, Ability, and Means the jury is allowed to take into account the circumstances and determine if it is reasonable that you had an honest belief that those criteria were met. An example: you’re walking through a park at night and a person come running at you, yelling and holding a large knife over their head. If you defend yourself and it is later discovered that the knife wasn’t real you will likely still have a self-defense claim. But, it does have to be reasonable in their mind. Simply saying “I was in fear for my life” is not enough!

All that said, there are other criteria that come into play as well. Such as you not having contributed to the situation escalating to a deadly force incident or be at fault for causing it. A prime example there is a bar fight. If you are found to have been mutual combatants and you pull a weapon and use it you are very unlikely to prevail with a self-defense claim. Another good example would be if you pull a knife on someone and he pulls a gun but you stab him before he can shoot you it isn’t going to be a valid self-defense claim because you caused the situation.

Now we finally arrive at the topic of this piece and that is the Duty to Retreat. In Ohio, you generally have a duty to attempt to escape from a potential deadly force incident before using deadly force. However, Castle Doctrine removes this requirement if you are in your home or vehicle. That’s all it does! All those other criteria still stand and will be evaluated to determine the lawfulness of your actions.

So to say, as I saw multiple times, that anyone you catch breaking into you house can be shot due to Castle Doctrine is not true. You will still have to prove (and claiming self-defense shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the defense) you were in, or had a reasonable and honest belief you were in, Jeopardy; that the other person had the Ability to cause serious bodily harm or death; and that he or she also possessed the Means to do so.

To help you visualize how this comes into play here are some real examples where deadly force was not justified:

  • A drunk came home to the wrong house and knocked what he thought was his own door down.
  • An elderly woman with dementia returned to her previous residence and was able to gain entry
  • A father heard a noise in the house at night and armed himself to investigate. He ended up shooting his son’s friend who was staying the night unbeknownst to the father.
  • A woman was home alone and heard someone enter the house, climb the stairs, and approach the bedroom. She fired a shot through the door, killing her husband who had returned from deployment and way trying to surprise her.

These are just a couple of examples of situations where Castle Doctrine will not save you from a homicide charge. Simply saying you were afraid (even if you really were!) is not enough. Use of deadly force is a serious matter and you owe it to yourself and your family to learn when it is prudent to use that force and when it is not.

Armed Lorain woman repels intruder

An as-yet-unnamed man’s drunken antics nearly cost him his life when he broken into the home of an armed nurse, 36-year-old Deborah Krasienko.

“I would have shot him had my daughter been home, just out of fear for her safety,” she said. “I almost killed this man, just because he was too dumb and drunk to know what he was doing.”

From the story, Krasienko had just gotten home from work Saturday morning when the drunken intruder began pounding on her front door. She retrieved her handgun as he went around the house and entered through the rear door, breaking the screen door and using the keys she had left in the lock to unlock the back door. He eventually realized she was armed and fled the scene, later to be picked up by the police, positively identified by Krasienko, then driven home.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and it turned out the intruder was non-violent, but it certainly could have ended much worse.

Krasienko was wise to arm herself when her home was threatened but admits exhaustion lead to her mistake of leaving the keys in the back door lock. Had she not done that, he might not have even been able to enter the house.

Once he entered the house, some would recommend using deadly force immediately. It takes only seconds for an intruder to charge and close the distance in most rooms, and a person impaired by drugs or alcohol has diminished capacity to feel pain. Even if such a person was fatally hit he may live long enough to cause significant bodily harm or death. In fact, Krasienko acknowledged the danger by stating she wouldn’t have taken the risk had her daughter been home.

That said, I believe she made the right choice. Pulling the trigger is a last resort and she still had options available. Hopefully she had furniture between herself and the intruder, but even if she didn’t I think it was a reasonable risk to avoid loss of life.

She stated that once he had entered the house he had gotten distracted by her puppy and hadn’t even acknowledged her presence yet. Although he had entered her home it seems clear he didn’t know where he was and was not yet a threat. Once the reality of the situation sunk in he quickly fled the scene. Had he advanced towards her then she would have been forced to defend herself.

When confronted by a situation like this you will have just seconds to make decisions that will affect your life and the lives of others. Using situations like this as a learning experience can help prepare you for what your response will be and make the decision easier.

Securing your home should always be a top priority. Be sure to lock all your doors and windows and remove the keys from the door. Everyone gets tired but you must focus on this detail.

Arm yourself at the first sign of danger. Had Krasienko waited and the intruder been violent she might not have had time to get her gun once he gained entry.

If an intruder does gain access, get him/her out. Do not try to capture the intruder. They could feign compliance while waiting for the opportune moment to attack. Getting them out is a much safer option. Order them to leave clearly and simply.

During the confrontation, try to maintain your distance and keep furniture between you and them as an impediment. Watch for signs of aggression or weapons. A weapon in hand is an immediate cue to act.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a situation like this but if you do, and have considered your options in advanced, it is more likely to end in a positive manner.

Protecting against home invasion

There have been several stories in the news lately regarding home invasions. A home invasion occurs when whether intentionally or unintentionally a criminal enters your home while you are present; as opposed to a burglary where they do so when the house is empty.

Many times during accidental home invasions the criminal is not expecting to encounter anyone and will quickly flee when confronted. Intentional home invasions are much more dangerous as the criminal is expecting to confront someone (or is at least prepared for the possibility should they attempt a theft at night without waking the occupants) and will already have a plan for dealing with the residents. This may be as simple as threatening them with a weapon, restraining them, forcing them to assist with the robbery by leading the criminal to valuables or the confrontation could lead to rape or murder.

One such home invasion occurred in Elyria, Ohio in the morning of Thursday, January 5th. According to her account, she was in bed watching television when she heard a suspicious noise. She armed herself and was creeping down the stairs when a 31 year old drug addict kicked down her door and entered her home. She kept yelling for him to stop and when he succeeded in getting inside she fired three shots at him and he fled before later being arrested.

Since a neighbor reported hearing him yell “Oh My God!” as he ran away, it is likely he expected nobody to be home; or at the least not an armed response. The man was suspected to have broken in several weeks earlier when the woman’s daughter and granddaughter were home but they stayed upstairs and did not encouter the robber.

This is contrasted with another incident in Elyria on the same day. This time, the resident woke up to find a man with a gun in his bedroom. The robber forced the man to help him load up two garbage bags full of loot before escaping. Since this victim was taken by surprise while sleeping, being armed might not have led to a better outcome.

In both of these cases, there would have been warning if the resident had an alarm system. Even if you can’t afford a monitored service, an inexpensive stand-alone system can sound an audio alert to warn you of intrusion and possibly even cause the criminal to flee without a confrontation. At the very least it will give you more warning that awaking to find the intruder already in your bedroom giving you time to arm yourself and possibly lock your bedroom door or get to your children.

A common thing a criminal will try is to see if your doors or windows are unlocked to allow for easy entry. To prevent this, you should keep your doors and windows locked whenever practical, even if you are home.

Another frequent ploy is for the home invader to summon the victim to the door and press an attack when the door is opened. The best defense against this is to not open the door to someone you don’t know to keep a physical barrier between you. A door chain can be of use here if it is of high quality and properly installed so a simple push won’t break it. Likewise a good, solid door can help keep an intruder at bay.

Not only should you have a strong door at all entrances to your home, but having a good door and strong locks on your bedroom can allow you to use it as a safe room. Losing your possessions is much preferable to losing your life or becoming seriously injured.

Arming yourself before answering the door can also be an option, though a sudden rush by the invader can render you unable to bring your weapon into play. If there is more than one person home it might be better to arm the second person instead. If attacked, the first person can create separation either by running, shoving the attacker, or going to the ground allowing the second person to enact an armed response.

In addition to an alarm, there are several other things you can do to make your home a less attractive target. Keeping shrubbery trimmed back can prevent an attacker from hiding himself or an accomplice. A well-lit exterior, particularly with motion activated lights, can help make the criminal less comfortable. Owning a dog, particularly a large one, can be a strong deterrent.

One dangerous situation that can occur is surprising a burglar when you come home. Always be aware of your surroundings so you can take notice if things seem out of place or there are signs of forced entry. Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security when you enter your home, either. Glance around for things to be out of place and you also might catch a glimpse of the invader. If you do see someone as you enter, get out immediately. Even if armed you do not want the risk of confronting a possibly armed criminal. Discretion is definitely the better part of valor.

If you do manage to successfully enact an armed response you should attempt to verbally repel the intruder before firing if safe to do so. Most criminals will take an available escape route which is preferable to needing to win a gunfight or risk a round from your gun striking a neighbor or passerby. Attempting to apprehend the intruder can be dangerous as well, giving him opportunity to counter attack or forcing an accomplice to attempt a rescue.

These are just a few suggestions to help protect yourself against a home invasion. There is a lot of good information on the internet, and the NRA offers several good courses covering these topics including Refuse to Be a Victim and Personal Protection in the Home.