A Closer Look At Maine’s Castle Doctrine Law {Part 1}

Wayne Harvey

Updated 2 years ago

Burglaries, Robberies, Break-ins, Home Invasions.They are in our headlines frequently.Mainers are now fighting back against intruders.But are they protected when it happens.In recent months, gun sales at Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer are up by 40%.There have been two reported shootings after break-ins this year.Two incidents that fall under the law known as the Castle Doctrine.”The law basically provides is, that we all have the right to use deadly force to defend ourselves from what we reasonably believe to be the use of deadly force against us,” said William Stokes, the Deputy Attorney General. “And the second thing, and if you can with complete safety, the law requires that you try to avoid the use of deadly force, if you can, but if you reasonably believe you can’t retreat, then you don’t have to, you can defend yourself.”That is the law of self defense. But an incident like recent shootings in Hermon and Eddington falls under Title 17-A of the Maine Criminal Code, subsection 104. Use of force in defense of premises, and they are not one in the same, according to Stokes. “So the difference now is number one, you don’t have to retreat in your own dwelling, and number two, it’s not the imminent use of deadly force. It can be to prevent the termination of a criminal trespass, which, and you reasonably believe the person is about to commit a crime in there, it could be any crime, could be assault, could be theft. Now there is one condition that the law imposes and that is under the law, you are, before you use deadly force, you are supposed to first demand the person terminate the criminal trespass unless you believe that to do so would endanger your life.”If the person was invited into the home and an argument or fight happens, Stokes said the law works differently in that instance. “We get into an argument over politics or religion or whatever and I no longer enjoy your company and I want you to leave. Well I don’t have the right to shoot you. I revoked my permission, unless you surreptitiously, unless you’re hiding in the closet about to commit another crime, typically you call the police and you ask the person to leave. You don’t have the right to escalate things to deadly force under that context.”In a situation where you’ve asked someone to leave your home, the confrontation has to end when they leave the house.”If the person is actually leaving the premises and is no longer trying to enter or is not surreptitiously remaining, then you are going to lose the right to use deadly force under those circumstances. The fact that something may have happened in the house doesn’t mean it continues forever.”"In a nutshell,” Stokes continued. “That is the Castle Doctrine where you have a greater justification to use deadly force in the context of your dwelling place than you do to use deadly force outside the context of your dwelling place.”It is a very complex law, one with very serious implications, and one that can arise in a fast moving and dangerous situation with very little time to think about or weigh out decisions. But Stokes believes the law works.”Remember, this doesn’t mandate that you use deadly force, you’re authorized to use deadly force” said Stokes. “I think the law as the Legislature has set it up since 1975-76 when the code went into effect, so we’re now into what, going on 35 years of dealing with this law? It’s worked, generally speaking it’s worked well.”There are other security options for Mainers besides a gun, like a security system.There have been cases where the Castle Doctrine has been used in Maine.In part two of this special report, we’ll move from what the law looks like on the books, to what it looks like in a courtroom.For More information check out Title 17-A SS 104 and Title 17-A SS 108 of the Maine Criminal Code.


MENU