Welcome to a world where the legal system treats you differently depending upon where you draw your weapon and defend yourself. Hello, I’m Scott Joye, the Independent Program Attorney for the State of South Carolina. Today, I am going to discuss the Castle Doctrine in South Carolina and the immunity protections it affords us when we are in certain locations.

Defining “Castle Doctrine”

It is important to know that the term “Castle Doctrine” is a legal concept that comes from the philosophy that every person is the king or queen of his or her “castle.” As such, no person is required to retreat before using force or deadly force against an intruder in his or her home.

In South Carolina, the Castle Doctrine laws are implemented in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-440 and include a powerful “presumption of imminent peril or death” to the inhabitants of that castle, even if that person is a visitor in the home. The South Carolina Castle Doctrine law extends to another’s dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle and, while not explicitly stating as such, to another’s business.

If you are a victim of unlawful forcible entry when you are in a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle, or business, the law will provide you protection beyond the general rules of self-defense. In these Castle Doctrine locations, the law will presume that your belief that force or deadly force was necessary and reasonable to defend against unlawful force likely to cause imminent death or great bodily harm. Further, the statute goes on to state that the person who unlawfully and by force enters another’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or a violent crime.

What the Law Says

South Carolina’s Immunity statute, contained in S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-450, is a potentially powerful legal argument. It provides you immunity from prosecution if you are forced to use justified deadly force in self-defense while in your “castle.”

But, be aware that it is possible for the prosecution to overcome this presumption of immunity with evidence showing that your fear of death or great bodily harm was unreasonable. Further, this immunity provision provides for immunity from civil action as well. For example, if law enforcement or later, the prosecuting authorities, choose not to pursue criminal charges against you, does that mean you cannot be sued?

No! Because no court has ruled that you were justified in your actions, you can still be sued and ultimately could have the suit thrown out by a judge or decided by a jury.

How Does a Person Qualify for Castle Doctrine Protections?

South Carolina law requires that two conditions be present:

  1. The person against whom deadly force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle, or if he has removed or is attempting to remove another person against that person’s will from the dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle; and
  2. The person who uses deadly force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred.

Again, note here that while the language does not specifically mention businesses, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-420 clearly states that the intent of the legislature was to extend this protection to businesses. As can be seen, section (1) covers conditions when someone is entering or attempting to enter your castle or is removing or attempting to remove you or someone else from your castle; section (2) further requires that you knew this was happening or had reason to know it happened.

If you meet these two requirements, you qualify for the Immunity Protection under the South Carolina Castle Doctrine statute. This is a powerful legal tool for any person who is accused of a crime and further, against civil claims, and claiming justification. The presumption will be further enhanced by having no duty to retreat.

Another Set of Presumptions

A second set of legal presumptions is found in the South Carolina Castle Doctrine; one which presumes the bad guy is entering the “castle” to do bad things.

S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-440(D) states that “A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter another’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or a violent crime…”

Additionally, S.C. Code Ann. § 16-11-440(E) states that “A person who by force enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, residence, occupied vehicle,” and perhaps even a business, “in violation of an order of protection, restraining order, or as a condition of bond is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act” regardless of whether that person has any interest in the property as an owner, title holder, or even as a lessee.

South Carolina’s Castle Doctrine is one of the strongest defensive weapons a gun owner has. Many states offer some protections to firearm owners in their own homes; however, South Carolina’s Castle Doctrine does much more in additional places, and perhaps provides among the greatest protections in the country.

If you have any questions, feel free to call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.