CT Self Defense Laws

2008-R-0320

CASTLE DOCTRINE AND SELF DEFENSE IN CIVIL CASES


By: George Coppolo, Chief Attorney
 

SUMMARY

CGS § 53a-19 establishes the circumstances under which a person can use physical force and deadly physical force to defend himself or someone else without being convicted for assault, manslaughter, or murder. This law does not explicitly address civil cases in which the injured person or his or her estate seeks damages caused by using force in self defense.

Under this statute, a person may use reasonable physical force on another person to defend himself, herself, or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force. The defender may use the degree of force he or she reasonably believes is necessary to defend himself, herself, or a third person.

The law establishes special rules for using deadly force to defend one's self or another person. Specifically, the law prohibits anyone from using such force unless he or she (1) reasonably believes that the attacker is using or about to use deadly physical force or inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm and (2) knows he or she cannot avoid the need to use deadly force by retreating. But the law specifies that a person does not have to retreat before using deadly force if he or she is in his or her dwelling or workplace.

A related statute establishes the circumstances under which someone can use force to defend his or her premises. Under this law, a person who possesses or controls property, or has a license or privilege to be in or on it, can use reasonable physical force when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes it to be necessary to stop another from trespassing or attempting to trespass in or upon it.

Just as in the case of using deadly force for self defense or a defense of another person, the law establishes special rules for using deadly force in defense of premises. Specifically, the law allows a person who possesses or controls property, or has a license or privilege to be in or on it, to use deadly physical force only:

1. to defend himself, herself, or someone else if he or she reasonably believes that the attacker is using or about to use deadly physical force or inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm;

2. when he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent the trespasser from attempting to commit arson or any violent crime; or

3. to the extent he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to stop someone from forcibly entering his or her dwelling or workplace, and for the sole purpose of stopping the intruder (CGS § 53a-20).

Generally, the “castle doctrine” provides that someone attacked in his or her home can use reasonable force, which can include deadly force, to protect his or her or another's life without any duty to retreat from the attacker. It is defined differently in different states.

The defense of self-defense is available to a defendant faced with the intentional torts of civil assault and battery, as long as there is sufficient evidence in support of that defense. This defense is also available in lawsuits where the plaintiff claims it was the defendant's negligence that caused his or her injuries because the defendant used more force than was reasonably necessary under the circumstances. This defense will prevail only if the jury (or judge in a non-jury trial) concludes that the defendant acted reasonably under the circumstances with respect to (1) the need to use force and (2) the degree of force actually used.

CONNECTICUT-CRIMINAL LAW-DEFENSE OF PERSON OR PROPERTY AS JUSTIFICATION TO USE FORCE OR DEADLY FORCE

A person may not be convicted of a crime for using physical force or deadly physical force under certain circumstances. The person using the force has the burden of introducing testimony or other evidence to show that he or she was using force to defend himself, herself, or another person, or his or her premises, or other property under the circumstances established by the following statutes. Once he or she introduces this evidence, the state has the burden of disproving it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Physical Force in Self Defense or in Defense of Others

A person is justified in using reasonable physical force on another person to defend himself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of physical force. The defender may use the degree of force he or she reasonably believes is necessary to defend himself, herself, or a third person (CGS §53a-19(a)).

But the law specifies that a person is not justified in using physical force when

1. with intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, he or she provokes the person to use physical force;

2. use of such force was the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law; or

3. he or she is the initial aggressor unless he withdraws from the encounter, effectively communicates this intent to the other person, and the other person continues to or threatens to use physical force (CGS § 53a-19(c)).

Deadly Force in Defense of Self or Others

The law establishes special rules for using deadly force for self defense or the defense of others. Specifically it prohibits people from using deadly force for self defense or the defense of someone else unless they reasonably believe that an attacker is using or about to use deadly physical force or inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm on them or someone else (CGS § 53a-19(b)).

Additionally, the law prohibits people from using deadly force for self defense or the defense of someone else if they know they can avoid doing so with complete safety by:

1. retreating,

2. surrendering possession to property the aggressor claims to own, or

3. obeying a demand that he not take an action he is not otherwise required to take.

But the law specifies that someone does not have to retreat from his or her dwelling or workplace before using deadly force in self defense or in defense of someone else if he or she was not the initial aggressor. The law defines a “dwelling” as a building, which is usually occupied by a person lodging there at night (CGS §53a-100));

Lastly, a person is not justified in using physical force when (1) with intent to cause physical injury or death to another person, he or she provokes the person to use physical force; (2) use of such force was the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law; or (3) he or she is the initial aggressor, unless he or she withdraws from the encounter, effectively communicates this intent to the other person, and the other person continues to or threatens to use physical force) (CGS § 53a-19).

Physical Force to Defend Premises

A person who possesses or controls property or has a license or privilege to be in or on it is justified in using reasonable physical force when and to the extent he reasonably believes it to be necessary to stop another from trespassing or attempting to trespass in or upon it (CGS § 53a-20).

Deadly Force to Defend Premises

Just as in the case of self defense the law establishes special rules for using deadly force to defend premises. Specifically, the law allows someone who possesses or controls property, or has a license or privilege to be in or on it, to use deadly physical force only:

1. for self defense or the defense of someone else unless he or she reasonably believe that an attacker is using or about to use deadly physical force, or inflicting or about to inflict great bodily harm on him or her or on someone else;

2. when he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent the trespasser from attempting to commit arson or any violent crime; or

3. to the extent he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to stop someone from forcibly entering his or her or her home or workplace and for the sole purpose of stopping the intruder (CGS § 53a-20).

Physical Force in Defense of Property

A person is justified in using reasonable physical force when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes it necessary to (1) prevent attempted larceny or criminal mischief involving property or (2) regain property that he or she reasonably believes was stolen shortly before.

When defending property, deadly force may be used only when it is necessary to defend a person from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force or infliction or imminent infliction of great bodily harm as described above (CGS § 53a-21).

  

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