The Castle Doctrine

On December 7, 2011 Governor Scott Walker signed a bill passing the Castle Doctrine in Wisconsin.  The law provides criminal immunity (along with civil protection) for individuals who use a gun in self-defense while on their property.  The doctrine provides the gun-user a presumption that use of the gun was justified.  The law is a “stand your ground” version, which does not require that the individual using his gun retreat before using deadly force.  The law applies in one’s car, business, and home.  The intruder must have forcibly entered the place, or be in the process of attempting to forcibly enter, and the defender must be present within the home, car, or business.

The law specifically provides:

939.48(1m)(ar) If an actor intentionally used force that was intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm, the court may not consider whether the actor had an opportunity to flee or retreat before he or she used force and shall presume that the actor reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself if the actor makes such a claim under sub. (1) and either of the following applies:
1. The person against whom the force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering the actor’s dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, the actor was present in the dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, and the actor knew or reasonably believed that an unlawful and forcible entry was occurring.
2. The person against whom the force was used was in the actor’s dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business after unlawfully and forcibly entering it, the actor was present in the dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business, and the actor knew or reasonably believed that the person had unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business.

One case has helped clarify the Castle Doctrine.  In State v. Chew, the Court of Appeals was tasked with determining whether the doctrine applied (whether a jury instruction should be given) when Mr. Chew fired shots from the hall in his apartment and the doorway of the apartment building at two attackers who fled across a parking lot.  Mr. Chew was charged with recklessly endangering safety by use of a dangerous weapon based on the shots he fired across the lot.

As the law makes clear, the doctrine is applicable in two scenarios: when someone is in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering the dwelling (939.48(1m)(ar)1) or someone who has already unlawfully and forcibly entered the dwelling (939.48(1m)(ar)2).  Chew’s situation is clearly the latter, since the attackers had already succeeded in entering Chew’s apartment when he fired.

The court found that the circuit court was correct in not providing the jury an instruction regarding the Castle Doctrine.  It found:

¶ 11 Under WIS. STAT. § 939.48(1m)(ar)2., the person against whom the force was used must be “in the actor’s dwelling.” We find it significant that the singular possessive is used here. To possess means “to have and hold as property: have a just right to: be master of: OWN.WEBSTER’S THIRD NEW INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY 1770 (1993). The statute applies only if the men were in Chew’s dwelling.
¶ 12 WISCONSIN STAT. § 939.48(1m)(a)1. imports the definition of the actor’s dwelling set forth at WIS. STAT. § 895 .07(1)(h), which states:
(h) “Dwelling” means any premises or portion of a premises that is used as a home or a place of residence and that part of the lot or site on which the dwelling is situated that is devoted to residential use. “Dwelling” includes other existing structures on the immediate residential premises such as driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, fences, porches, garages, and basements.
Key in this definition is the requirement that the part of the lot or site in question is “devoted to residential use.” While the statute lists several parts of a residential lot that are part of “dwelling,” it tellingly does not include a parking lot. See State v. Popenhagen, 2008 WI 55, ¶ 43, 309 Wis.2d 601, 749 N.W.2d 611 (a statute that lists specific items may exclude those not listed). We can discern whether or not the list should be extended to include an apartment shared parking lot by looking at the items on the list. The common denominator of driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, fences, porches, garages, and basements as relates to an actor’s “home” is that all are on the homeowner’s lot—property over which the actor has exclusive control. The same would be true of tenants renting a single place of residence. An apartment building parking lot, on the other hand, is shared by all the tenants. It is not exclusive to Chew or “devoted to [the] residential use” of any one tenant. Sec. 895.07(1)(h). While Chew may have had the right to park there, the parking lot was not part of his own dwelling.
What the court found was that the Castle Doctrine did not include Mr. Chew’s shared parking lot.  It pointed out that things covered by the doctrine, such as driveways, sidewalks, swimming pools, terraces, patios, fences, porches, garages and basements are all linked to the home itself, and are property over which the defendant has exclusive control.  An apartment building parking lot is shared by all tenants.  It is not Mr. Chew’s alone and is not devoted to his apartment alone.  Therefore, the doctrine does not apply.