Self-Defense - Duty to Retreat Exists if Person is on Front Lawn

Self-defense in Minnesota is an affirmative defense against assault-based charges. Much of the analysis is tied to the reasonableness of the actions taken by the defendant and whether the defendant could have avoided the situation. But, if the defendant was in his/her house, there is no duty to retreat under the “Castle Doctrine”. A recent Court of Appeals case analyzed how far this Castle Doctrine extends.

Before getting to the Court of Appeals analysis, let’s make sure we understand the basics of the self-defense claim. First, there are four elements necessary for a successful self-defense claim

  1. The defendant was not an aggressor and did not provoke the alleged victim;
  2. The defendant had an actual and honest belief of imminent danger;
  3. A reasonable basis existed for this belief; and
  4. A reasonable means to retreat or otherwise avoid physical conflict were not available.

This fourth element is not required, though, when the defendant is in his or her home. The principle guiding the Castle Doctrine is that a person’s home is his place of greatest safety and, therefore, the law does not expect or require a person to retreat from their home.

In a recent Court of Appeals case, the self-defense claim arises from an incident in the front yard. After analyzing prior cases, the Court of Appeals determined that the Castle Doctrine is limited to just the home and does not include the surroundings. After all, the defendant could have retreated into the home, rather than stand his ground in the yard. The Court cited to a case involving the front porch for support as well.

Self-Defense is a valuable affirmative defense that should be well-considered in assault cases. And just because the Court said the Castle Doctrine doesn’t extend to the front yard doesn’t mean that retreat is necessary. The duty to retreat only exists if and when there are reasonable means to do so.

As you can imagine, the reasonableness of actions in a self-defense case gives way to much litigation. This is why you need experienced and successful Minnesota assault attorneys to raise your best defenses against these serious allegations.