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How Does Duty to Retreat Interact with Castle Doctrine in New York?

Stand your ground laws increased in use nationwide after Florida adopted such a law relatively recently in 2005. Prior to this, castle doctrine was predominant. Castle doctrine arose from an English case decided by Sir Edward Coke in 1604 that granted certain legal protections to men inside their homes as “a man’s home was his castle.” Opponents of stand your ground doctrine argue that it is important to avoid using deadly force, especially when it is possible to retreat or when less than deadly force would safely deal with the threat, hence the need for the duty to retreat. But what is the duty to retreat, and for that matter, what do castle doctrine and and stand your ground laws really mean? Read on to learn more about these complex topics. Keep in mind that, given the knotty nature of the legal landscape, your first course of action when facing criminal charges should be to contact Rockland County criminal defense attorneys.

What is Duty to Retreat?

Unlike most states nowadays, New York does not have a stand your ground law. Instead, New York law state law includes a duty to retreat. The duty to retreat is considered a common sense concept by proponents, in that the concept argues that when someone can retreat with “complete personal safety,” they should. Duty to retreat means that the law requires you, if you are in danger, to try to avoid confrontation by de-escalating or extricating yourself from the situation, if you can do so safely.

If you didn’t start the conflict or if the aggressor trespassed on your home, the duty to retreat does not apply. As many opponents of stand your ground laws remind us, the duty to retreat has a far longer precedent than stand your ground. In New York, the duty to retreat was first adopted in 1968.

What about Stand Your Ground Laws?

To understand the conflict between stand your ground laws and duty to retreat, it will be useful to explain what stand your ground laws are. The majority of states have stand your ground laws, which are fairly controversial. Thirteen states like New York have duty to retreat laws, making the duty to retreat less known today, but with a longer history.

Stand your ground laws legally allow someone who reasonably believes they are the intended target of an attack to defend themselves using force, even lethal force, if the attack is perceived to be grave enough to warrant it.

What Is Castle Doctrine?

Castle doctrine is one of the legal theories used in New York to allow self-defense. Arising from a 1604 English case from which we get the adage that a man’s home is his castle, castle doctrine states that you do not have a duty to retreat if someone breaks into your home. In that scenario, you may legally use force to defend yourself and your property in New York.

What Differentiates Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws?

Although functioning very differently state by state, the core theoretical difference between the two is when self-defense is justified. Castle doctrine, with its adjunct theory duty to retreat, places a greater responsibility on us to avoid conflicts, whereas stand your ground laws justify violence when a person has a reasonable fear of harm.

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