A Detailed Look at South Carolina’s Castle Doctrine

By enacting S.C. Code Sections 16-11-410, et seq., the “Protection of Persons and Property Act,” (“the Act”) the South Carolina General Assembly codified the common law “Castle Doctrine.” The “Castle Doctrine” is South Carolina’s version of the “stand your ground” law prevalent in several high profile murder cases across the nation over the last few years, including the case involving the death of Trayvon Martin.

The Castle Doctrine in South Carolina

The “Castle Doctrine” recognizes that a person’s home is his castle and extends to include an occupied vehicle and a person’s place of business. The South Carolina General Assembly’s rationale behind the Castle Doctrine is that persons residing in or visiting South Carolina have a right to expect to remain unmolested and safe within their homes, businesses, and vehicles, and no person or victim of crime should be required to surrender his personal safety to a criminal, nor should a person or victim be required to needlessly retreat in the face of intrusion or attack.

S.C. Code Section 16-11-440(C) provides that “

[a] person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person or to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60.” Also, S.C. Code Section 16-11-450(A) provides that “[a] person who uses deadly force as permitted by the provisions of this article or another applicable provision of law is justified in using deadly force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of deadly force, unless the person against whom deadly force was used is a law enforcement officer acting in the performance of his official duties and he identifies himself in accordance with applicable law or the person using deadly force knows or reasonably should have known that the person is a law enforcement officer.” As such, the “Castle Doctrine” is not a “defense” to a crime like “self-defense” is. Instead, it provides IMMUNITY from criminal prosecution AND civil action for the use of deadly force. This means a person that is lawfully acting under the “Castle Doctrine” CANNOT BE PROSECUTED AND CANNOT BE SUED.

The “Castle Doctrine” is, however, not available to a person using deadly force against a police officer who is acting within the scope of his official duties and identifies himself as such. Moreover, a person cannot claim immunity under the “Castle Doctrine” when he uses deadly force against a person he or she knows or reasonably should have known is a police officer.

The determination of whether a Defendant claiming immunity under the Act is entitled thereto is necessarily made via pretrial hearing. What this means is that prior to any trial of any civil or criminal matter in which a Defendant claims immunity under the “Castle Doctrine,” the Court has to hold an evidentiary hearing during which witnesses must testify under oath. The Defendant has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she is entitled to immunity.

Does the “Castle Doctrine” Apply to Persons Using Less than Deadly Force?

A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be, including, but not limited to, his place of business, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or another person or to prevent the commission of a violent crime as defined in Section 16-1-60. S.C. Code Section 16-11-440(C). This provision of the “Castle Doctrine” appears to make the Act applicable to situations where a person is attacked and utilizes deadly force or less than deadly force if he reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury or to prevent the commission of a violent crime.

However, the immunity section of the Act seems to provide for immunity only as to persons who use “deadly force as permitted by the [the Act] or another applicable provision of law.” The Act specifically states that said person is “justified in using deadly force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of deadly force. . . .” The plain language of the statute suggests that immunity is only available for those who utilize “deadly force.” However, an interpretation that the Act allows immunity from prosecution only in situations involving “deadly force” yet requires that a person stand trial if they use “less than deadly force” defies logic and even encourages the use of “deadly force.” When read in conjunction with the remainder of the Act, specifically S.C. Code Section 16-11-440(C), it seems likely that an appellate Court in South Carolina would find that S.C. Code Section 16-11-450(A) gives immunity to those individuals who are justified in using “less than deadly force.”

What Happens if a Defendant is Unsuccessful in Seeking Immunity under the “Castle Doctrine?”

The Defendant is free to argue any defenses are available to him or her under all applicable law, including the assertion of “self-defense” or “defense of others.” In arguing that he or she is not guilty because of “self-defense” or “defense of others,” the burden of prove falls squarely upon the State (prosecution) to disprove that the Defendant acted in self-defense or defense of others beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is much higher in a criminal prosecution than in a hearing to determine immunity under the “Castle Doctrine,” and the burden is on the prosecution rather than the Defendant.

What to Do if You Believe your Case Involves the “Castle Doctrine?”

This outline of South Carolina’s “Castle Doctrine” is not intended to provide you with legal advice regarding your specific case. The interpretation of all South Carolina Statutes, including the “Castle Doctrine,” by the South Carolina Court of Appeals and South Carolina Supreme Court changes on nearly a daily basis. Therefore, it is important that you obtain an attorney that can advise you of changes in the law and the Court’s interpretation. The facts of each criminal or civil case differ greatly and a determination of whether the “Castle Doctrine” applies in each case should be carefully made by your attorney and only after that attorney is aware of all facts and circumstances surrounding your case.

If you believe that the Castle Doctrine applies to you, consult with an attorney immediately. If you or a family member are charged with Assault and Battery, Pointing and Presenting a Firearm, ABHAN, Attempted Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter, Voluntary Manslaughter, or Murder, including any offenses involving the use of a firearm or other weapon, Rad S. Deaton of the Deaton Law Firm, LLC, is one such attorney that is available to discuss the applicability of the “Castle Doctrine” to the facts of your case.

2017-12-30T12:34:49+00:00 February 7th, 2016|Criminal Defense|0 Comments