The “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws in action

A recent shooting in Kalispell, Montana raises both the “Castle doctrine”–that a resident of an occupied structure is justified in using deadly force to resist an intruder if he or she believes it’s necessary to prevent the intruder from assaulting him or her–and the “stand your ground” law–that a person who is lawfully in a place and is threatened with bodily harm does not have a duty to retreat or call law enforcement before using force. 

Writers interested in using either of these doctrines in their stories should read this article in the Daily Inter Lake, which includes a detailed summary of the Flathead County Attorney’s report to the Kalispell Police Chief, declining to prosecute.  It’s not often that we get to see a prosecutor’s analysis of the facts and law behind a decision to prosecute or not.

 Then read this interview with the dead man’s wife, who had been involved, at some level, with the shooter, witnessed the shooting, and strongly disagrees with the decision not to prosecute.

Update: And here’s the Inter Lake account of the prosecutor’s press conference, discussing his decision-making process.

The old Flathead County Courthouse — still a county office building. (Photo from a postcard collection at the Montana Historical Society.)

8 thoughts on “The “castle doctrine” and “stand your ground” laws in action

  1. Interesting how in the interview with the paper, “Dan posed no threat,” but according to the prosecutor, she said that he was physically abusive, particularly when drunk. Reading the newspaper interview, it’s staged as a chance for legal murder, but isn’t she a good portion of why the prosecution has the view of events that they do, per the first article?

    • Jason, I suspect the inconsistencies in the wife’s position have caused the prosecutor great heartburn — and will continue to do so. Obviously, we don’t (yet) know the full history between the decedent and wife, and whether it ever rose to the level of domestic abuse, but it’s not uncommon for victims of domestic abuse to change their testimony and recant their allegations. We may be seeing something similar here.

  2. Great info on Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. Of course, now I’m going to check on the NJ laws. I remember my Dad always said, “If you’re going to shoot a burglary entering the house, make sure he has both feet inside the door or window before you shoot.” My Mom and I laughed at this because we shot bows, not guns. Mom’s thing was, “I’d have to tell him to wait a minute for me to string my bow before I could shoot him.”

  3. In scanning reader comments to the Inter Lake about this incident, there’s a lot of ranting that the “castle” and “stand your ground” laws provide opportunities for legal murder by people with less than pure motives. However, I don’t believe that’s sufficient reason to change the law. No matter how detailed, a law cannot hope to cover the myriad situations where it will be applied. I believe in the majority of cases, these two laws protect innocent people who might otherwise become crime victims in their homes. Victims (myself included) have complained for years that criminals get off on so-called minor technicalities, only to go out and reoffend. These laws even the playing field for honest citizens in an increasingly dangerous world.

    I believe the wife bears significant moral (but likely not legal) responsibility in the death of her husband, based on her own statements. She helped create the volatile situation and now seeks to blame others for the consequences. The only truly innocent victims in the story are the children. Theirs is the real tragedy.

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