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How the Castle Doctrine affects felonies involving death

Like elsewhere in the United States, Louisiana residents have the right to defend themselves by using force against force. The Stand-Your-Ground doctrine and the Castle Doctrine are the two main parts to the legal theory of self-defense. For those charged with felonies involving death -- such as negligent homicide, manslaughter or murder -- one of these doctrines might be used as a defense if the circumstances warrant.

Take the Dec. 1 death of a man involving a road rage incident on a Louisiana roadway. In the original accounts of the story, a witness claimed that the shooter stood over the victim and shot him. However, official reports indicated that the shots came from inside the shooter's vehicle, and the driver said that he did so in self-defense.

Here in Louisiana, individuals are not required to attempt an escape if they are threatened with physical violence. They may stand their ground and fight. Since the shooter was in his vehicle, this might not be the appropriate defense.

Instead, he could claim self-defense under the Castle Doctrine, which originally allowed an individual to defend him or herself at home. In recent years, this doctrine has expanded to vehicles and workplaces. Even so, the man now faces a charge of manslaughter, but it will be up to prosecutors to prove to the court beyond a reasonable doubt that he is guilty of that offense.

The same would be true for other individuals charged with felonies involving death. If they were defending themselves, it might be possible to assert either the Stand-Your-Ground doctrine or Castle Doctrine as a defense. After discussing the matter with the accused individual, reviewing police reports and any witness statements, along with the physical evidence, a criminal defense attorney would more than likely explore these options if appropriate. 

Source:, "Joe McKnight, Ronald Gasser, and the law of self-defense in Louisiana", Ken Levy, Dec. 8, 2016

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