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Defendant Receives 10-Year Sentence for Shooting Lawful Resident After Entering What She Thought Was Her Apartment: How The Castle Doctrine Works


One particular criminal trial in October captured news headlines because it involved a police officer accidentally entering into what she thought was her own apartment and fatally shooting the man who resided there, who she mistakenly thought was an intruder. The defendant put forth what’s known as the castle doctrine; a version of what some might call the ‘stand your ground’ self-defense argument that she acted out of a reasonable belief that she was in danger of great bodily harm or death. While a number of homicide trials involving self-defense arguments are covered all the time, this was a truly unique application of the castle doctrine, given that it was the defendant making the argument that they reasonably had the right to shoot the victim even though, technically, under traditional notions of the castle doctrine, it would have been the victim who would have had that right to shoot the intruder. Although the defendant (Amber Guyger) was eventually convicted of murder, the fact that the jury only sentenced her to 10 years (with eligibility for parole after five) instead of life in prison is arguably an indication that juries take into account a number of factors in these types of trials, all depending upon the specific circumstances of the case.

Concerns Over Racial Factors at Play in Self-Defense Arguments

The case also draws on the issue of racial factors as they play into these cases: According to some studies, black defendants who assert the ‘stand your ground’ defense (or a version of it) are convicted nearly 100 percent of the time, while white defendants are acquitted at least 10 percent of the time. During her trial, evidence indicating that the defendant had racist tendencies – as reflected in her Pinterest activity and text messages – was also presented.

The Law in North Carolina

North Carolina has its own version of the castle doctrine: An individual can use deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat first if they are in a place where they have a lawful right to be there and they reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent great bodily harm and/or imminent death to themselves or someone else. They are also immune from criminal and civil liability for using such force unless they used it against an officer or bail bondsman who was acting in the performance of their official duties and identified themselves or the shooter knew or should have known who they were.

Contact Our North Carolina Homicide Defense Attorneys with Any Questions

If you or a loved one has been charged with homicide here in North Carolina, you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney right away in order to ensure that your rights are protected and the very best defense is formed in your favor as soon as possible. Contact our North Carolina homicide lawyers today at the office of Hauter Law Firm, PC to find out more about our experienced criminal defense services.


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