Castle Doctrine: Shifting Burden of Proof from Shooter to the State

In November 2007, Joe Horn, citizen of Texas shot two intruders.  According to the Castle Doctrine, he had the right to do this.  If someone is breaking in your house or your neighbor’s house, you have the right to defend yourself and your house.  Your house is your castle (thus the Castle Doctrine) and you can do anything to defend it.  Horn wasn’t indicted by the Grand Jury.  Is Horn a hero?  Is he a vigilante?

When I was teaching captial punishment in class last fall, everyone–including the pro-death penalty people–said that Horn should not of done it.  The reasoning was because everyone has rights until it’s decided by juries.  At that point, rights can be taken away.  John Locke came with the same conclusion about how society gets along.  We all have basic rights: life, liberty, property, and retributive justice.  It’s just that we give up our right to retributive justice when we enter society and we give that right to a judge.  So I would imagine that Locke would be against the Castle Doctrine.

What I find interesting is what’s taken from the article:

The flavor of the law basically shifts the burden of proving self-defense from the shooter to the state.

So instead of the shooter proving that it was in self-defense, the state has to prove that it wasn’t.  What do you think?  Is the Castle Doctrine a good idea?

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About shaunmiller

I am a Ph. D student at Marquette University. The primary purpose of this blog is to get my ideas out there, and then have other people scrutinize, critique, build upon, and systematize beliefs. This blog will sometimes pertain to what I'm learning in my classes, but it will occasionally deal with non-classroom issues that I'm thinking about as well.
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18 Responses to Castle Doctrine: Shifting Burden of Proof from Shooter to the State

  1. Hektor says:

    I’m surprised that someone would propose something different from the burden of proof on the accused then on the state.

  2. shaunmiller says:

    Well, it’s not as if someone needed to propose something different. The default position has been what the tradition is, at least in the United States: the shooter must show that it was indeed self-defense. The Castle Doctrine seems to do it the other way around: the default would make it so that killing is the default position. I, myself, find the Castle Doctrine a bad idea. I think the shooter should prove in a court of law that it was self-defense. If the burden is on the state, then it seems that we’re back to the state of nature according to Locke and we aren’t in a civil society.

  3. Lauren says:

    Intruder, to me, is someone who is going to harm my property or steal it, or is going to hurt me or the people I love.
    What kind of intruder are we discussing? Some people who wandered onto this man’s property? Innocent bystanders? Or men who would come inside and held everyone at gunpoint and take their valuables?
    I think I have the right to protect myself, the things I have worked for, as well as my family. If someone tries to jeopardize any of those, I should be able to defend myself.
    However there has to be a line drawn between a redneck shooting someone who crosses his fence with no intention of harming him or his property, and a legitimate threat.
    People always say that no one has the right to take the life of another human being, when in reality it is a natural human response to defend ourselves and our things. When they are about to take your life, I would sure hope the person with the gun against their head would feel they had a right to take that person’s life should the chance arise.
    I agree to an extent that if you kill someone on your property, that you should be able to justify your actions. However, people are liars. And, what about the innocent? What if they were convicted because they couldn’t prove it was self-defense? Prison for life because they defended themselves?
    That consequence to me seems worse than the RARE scenario that someone who is on your property with a gun and doesn’t intend to harm you and gets shot for being a dumbass.
    I, myself, have been robbed not once, but twice. Once with violence. It is easy to sound humanitarian but when you are actually put into a situation, the Castle Doctrine makes the most sense.

  4. Killer J says:

    The burden of proof should definitely be on the state, not the accused.

  5. shaunmiller says:

    Hello Lauren, good to hear from you. Of course everyone has the right to defend their property and their family. In the Horn case, the burglars were on a neighbor’s property, not on his. Now the law in this certain area of Texas states that one has the right to defend the neighbor’s property as if it was his/her own. You also say:

    I agree to an extent that if you kill someone on your property, that you should be able to justify your actions. However, people are liars. And, what about the innocent? What if they were convicted because they couldn’t prove it was self-defense? Prison for life because they defended themselves?

    This seems to say that you agree with me in the sense that since people can lie, then we shouldn’t take their word. Thus, someone else has to prove if it was indeed self-defense or not.

    As for Jeff, I’m wondering why? Just simply stating your belief on something and not giving a justification on it isn’t compelling. My worry is that people may take advantage of this. Now I’m not saying we don’t have the right to defend ourselves or our property. We do. What I’m saying is that the burden of proof should stay with the accused. If it switches to the state, it makes things complex. For example, suppose that your neighbor shoots someone. His claim was that he was protecting his property. Suppose there are no witnesses, no criminal history, and no incriminating facts of either the shooter or the victim. Now under the tradition, he has to show why he was justified of shooting someone or if it was indeed infringing on his rights. Usually, people don’t resort to that kind of violence unless it’s the last resort. And in that case, it’s pretty easy to justify self-defense.

    But if the burden is on the state, the state has to prove that the accused was in the wrong. But if the state can’t do that, then the shooter got off scot free. Indeed, under this new rule, it seems that pretty much anyone can commit murder but all they have to say it was self-defense and it won’t matter because the state has to show that it was. People can take advantage of that. It seems to cause more problems.

  6. Killer J says:

    So you prefer guilty until proven innocent?

    So, I’m on your property. You open the door to water the lawn and I charge through the door tackling you to the ground, but causing you no visible injury. I then tell you that I’m going to kill you and raise my fist to begin caving in your skull. You reach in your pocket at the last instant and pull out your prison shank and plunge it in my neck, killing me. You roll my corpse off of you and call the cops.

    Let’s say there were no witnesses, no blood got on you, and no physical evidence of a struggle was available. You are now presumed guilty? You have to PROVE all that crap happened?

  7. Lauren says:

    Interesting.
    However, I still think this was an extreme case and that most people, MOST people, do not kill someone in their home or on their property just for the heck of killing someone.
    The guy in Texas, maybe he felt threatened? Maybe he felt his neighbors were threatended? Or maybe he’s just a crazy redneck!
    I genuinely believe that most citizens of this country are not going to kill someone unless it is in self-defense. That Castle Doctrine protects most of these people who are good, law abiding citizens.
    For those rare cases that someone kills another human being unjustifiable, a lot of times we cannot even say it was such because we did not witness or see the circumstances from that person. Even if it is extreme, it is rare. Unfortunate, but rare.
    I believe what would happen is that if the Castle Doctrine was taken away, is a lot more innocent people would be punished, perhaps severely, ruining their lives, prosperity, family, etc. because they felt the need to defend themselves.

  8. shaunmiller says:

    Good reply Killer J. I guess it comes down to the law vs. human nature. By law, we should have the innocent until proven guilty measure. However, as was stated by Lauren earlier, people lie. People can be deceptive and if people can get away with something without getting caught they will. Does this sound pessimistic? Sure, but what can I say, I’m a pessimistic person.

    Lauren: in the case mentioned above, both cases are pretty rare, but I believed Killer J’s example would be rarer. It seems more improbable that some guy would come up to me and start beating me up. If on the other hand the Castle Doctrine were to be put into place, I think people would take advantage of it and if they find someone s/he doesn’t like, then a murder can easily happen but s/he could claim “self-defense.” The person could plan it out so that there are no witnesses and it was on the person’s property just to claim Castle Doctrine protection.

    The guy in Texas felt that his neighbor’s property was threatened and he felt it was his obligation to protect it. But what does he do? He shoots them while the criminals were running away. That’s not self-defense! But under the Castle Doctrine, it is! Where’s the justice in that? So while I agree with you that people won’t kill someone unless it’s in self-defense, I don’t think it’s because people are “naturally good, law abiding citizens.” They do it because they don’t want to suffer the consequences of getting into trouble.

    As for the Castle Doctrine being taken away, well, this is a new concept from this jurisdiction. As far as I know, only this small town in Texas has it. So the rest of the nation has lived without the Castle Doctrine and we seem to be doing just find. We don’t need the Castle Doctrine to protect our rights, we’ve got the Constitution and seems to be working out just fine.

  9. Lauren says:

    Good points. I can see where you are coming from on this.
    However, I still have a firm belief that in this country that most people are not looking to cap someone’s ass the moment they get a chance. The opportunity for the crazies to do that might rise, but for most people, it would have no effect.
    Ask a large number of people to think of the person they hate the most (assuming they know them personally or somewhat, not like Bin Laden) and ask if they were given a chance to shoot them on their property, would they?
    My personal answer along with many others is, “No”.

  10. Killer J says:

    I like what Lauren said about human nature. I get talking to my clients quite a bit about crazy stuff like this, and even some of the most depraved people seem to have enough conscience not to kill people like that.
    Damn Shaun, you must think people are naturally evil! ha

  11. shaunmiller says:

    I guess it comes down to how we look at human nature. So with the examples that both Lauren and Killer J said, people won’t kill even people they hate. I’m not too sure. Contra Lauren, I think that if you asked a large group of people to think of someone they really hated (and we won’t say someone like bin Laden), and if given the chance to get rid of that person, would they do so with the caveat that they won’t get caught, there are no witnesses, they won’t even be a suspect? On top of this, they give you the answers anonymously. To be more broad, it doesn’t have to be one your own property. All that matters is that that person is gone by whatever means necessary. Would you do it? Sadly, I think many people would say yes. Again, I guess it comes down to how we view human nature. Is this pessimistic? Maybe, but I find the other view too optimistic.

  12. Killer J says:

    I don’t know. I read a book called “On Killing.” It talked about how even during wartime (facing the Bin Laden archetype, so to speak), once it came down to firing the weapon most could not even pull the trigger. By most, I’m talking upwards of 85% of combat veterans through Vietnam never even fired their weapons despite being under pressure (think Milgram experiments) AND going through the military conditioning to hate and dehumanize the enemy. Furthermore, those that DID fire their weapons intentionally missed their target.

    If you want me to elaborate or actually come up with numbers and statistics and references I can do that, but I figured you trust I’m not pulling stuff out of my ass since you know me.

  13. shaunmiller says:

    I’m sure the statistics bear that out. But what about those Milligram experiments? People were willing to cause harm to other people. What about people who followed the orders of Saddam Hussein, Hitler, and other dictators of the world? I think if people have the mentality of “if I can get away with it, why not?” It also brings up the interesting question of Glaucon’s Ring of Gyges story in Plato’s Republic, but people seem to be mixed.

    Maybe instead of saying people are naturally evil, selfish, good, noble, or altruistic, we should say humans are by nature neutral. But there are somethings in nature that can pull them towards an evil or an altruistic streak in life.

  14. Killer J says:

    The psychological state behind authority induced compliance is much different than the psychological state behind sociopathic indifference.
    65% of the population are willing to kill if they have outside, authoritarian social pressure instructing them to do so.
    2% of the population (antisocial personality disordered people) will kill if they can “get away with it.” Most people (98%) of the population have an intense aversion to killing, mainly because we have a sense of empathy and compassion.

  15. Killer J says:

    I forgot to finish up my point on the 65% will kill under authority. Joe Shmoe is under no such authority to kill when a burglar enters his home. You seemed to assert this by bringing up Milgram to justify your point about ‘if i can get away with it why not.’
    The natural aversion to kill is just to strong for the overwhelming majority (98%) of the population. Most are not so cavalier about life.

  16. shaunmiller says:

    I’m not sure if you were paraphrasing the statistics or if they were verbatim. If verbatim, then I find serious flaws with the results.

    Killer J says:

    Most people (98%) of the population have an intense aversion to killing, mainly because we have a sense of empathy and compassion.

    I’m wondering if this 98% have an aversion to killing because it’s built in us all. We naturally don’t like to kill. In other words, it’s human nature to have empathy and compassion. On the flip side, it’s something that we’ve learned. We gain a sense of empathy and compassion because of our environment. I’m more inclined to the learning aspect rather than the human nature aspect when it comes to morality. The reason is because if empathy and compassion are built in, then why isn’t 98% of the world peaceful? Why isn’t the majority of the world living a compassionate and empathetic life? Indeed, I’m willing to bet that future historians will look back at the 20th century (and possibly the 21st) as a century of terror: World War I, World War II, Stalin, Hitler, Korean War, Vietnam War, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, just to name a few. I haven’t even mentioned the little wars that have been going on through this century. If 98% of us are truly empathetic and compassionate, then why so much terror, why so much horror?

    Now I can imagine a reply: it’s the 2% of the people that mess it up. They are the minority, but they have great power. But the problem is that if that is the case, then why do they have so much influence over the 98% of the population is the 98% are already compassionate in the first place? If they were compassionate, they would truly see the 2% not worth listening.

    In the second place, if the 2% does have major influence, then why does the rest of the world (98%) have so much hostility towards the 2%? Remember, part of the argument of human nature is that we are by nature compassionate and empathetic creatures. But we don’t have empathy or compassion for the 2%.

    In argument structure, it’s an argumentum ad absurdum:

    1. The majority of humans (about 98%) are compassionate and empathetic by nature.

    2. Anything that happens, humans (98% at least) will look at it from a compassionate and empathetic manner. (From 1)

    3. 2% of humans are sociopaths and will not be compassionate or empathetic. (From 1)

    4. If the 2% does something, namely something bad, the 98% will still treat the 2% with empathy and compassion. (From 2)

    5. However, 98% treats the 2% with contempt and sees nothing but ill-will towards them.

    6. Therefore, if something happens, 98% won’t treat the situation with empathy and compassion.

    7. Therefore, number 1 is false.

  17. Killer J says:

    You are doing that straw man thing where you create an argument I haven’t made and then bash it.

    To answer your question, the aversion to kill substantially decreases with distance. Distance can be physical, cultural, or even socio economical. Most people’s natural aversion to kill (or condone killing via war) is significantly stifled through the distance induced by technology, proxy, borders, media, etc. This explains the war thing. When people think in groups and aren’t confronted with killing as intimate and proximal as a burglar invading your home, they will approve of and engage in killing much more readily.

    Anyway, people behave very differently individually as opposed to groups. We especially behave differently the closer the contact between defender and attacker. Again, 98% of us aren’t sociopaths, thus, have a strong aversion to kill because of empathy and compassion. I stand by this statistic, it’s easily referenced.

    People just don’t kill as readily as advertised (although the rates HAVE significantly climbed this past century, due in part, to the distance phenomenon).

    Making a law abiding citizen victimized by an intruder PROVE his/her innocence or face murder charges upon killing the robber is blaming the victim in every sense. Civilized societies don’t blame victims, they protect them.

  18. shaunmiller says:

    Killer J says:

    You are doing that straw man thing where you create an argument I haven’t made and then bash it.

    I probably am, so it’s a good thing you’re replying to clarify.

    Killer J says:

    To answer your question, the aversion to kill substantially decreases with distance. Distance can be physical, cultural, or even socio economical. Most people’s natural aversion to kill (or condone killing via war) is significantly stifled through the distance induced by technology, proxy, borders, media, etc. This explains the war thing.

    On an interesting side note, the 20th century has had a lot of bloodshed and wars. At the same time, the world is becoming more globalized throughout the 20th century.

    Killer J says:

    Making a law abiding citizen victimized by an intruder PROVE his/her innocence or face murder charges upon killing the robber is blaming the victim in every sense.

    Here’s the crux of the argument. If the victim is indeed self-defending him/herself from an intruder, of course the victim is acting in self-defense. In the Horn case above, I don’t think he was doing it in self-defense. Indeed, he wasn’t indicted by a Grand Jury which tells me that they considered him self-defending himself. A lot of people through Texas (and perhaps the country) have cheered this result. So based on this, I can only think of three conclusions:

    1. The Grand Jury and these people who have cheered the result are actually wrong as to what self-defense means.

    2. I may be wrong in what self-defense means.

    3. 98% of the people aren’t truly empathetic and compassionate. In which case, the statistic is wrong.

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