Oregon Castle Doctrine: Shooting Burglars or Intruders

Whenever there is a high-profile use of self-defense in Oregon against a home invader or burglar, people debate whether it was justified. Self-defense is legal in Oregon, and so is the use of deadly force. Whether use of deadly force is “right” or “wrong” belongs in church or a philosophy class. Whether it was “lawful” or “unlawful” requires a different analysis.

Stand Your Ground vs. Duty to Retreat

State self-defense laws vary around the country. However, essentially three categories exist: Stand Your Ground States, Castle Doctrine States, and Duty to Retreat states.  A majority of states in the U.S. are “stand your ground” states and only a minority are “duty to retreat” states.

Oregon Castle Doctrine Law

Do You Have a Duty to Retreat in Oregon?

The Oregon law on limitations to use of deadly force is codified in ORS 161.219, which reads as follows:

Limitations on use of deadly physical force in defense of a person

Notwithstanding the provisions of ORS 161.209, a person is not justified in using deadly physical force upon another person unless the person reasonably believes that the other person is:

(1) Committing or attempting to commit a felony involving the use or threatened imminent use of physical force against a person; or

(2) Committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling; or

(3) Using or about to use unlawful deadly physical force against a person.

This statute was interpreted by the Oregon Supreme Court in March of 2007. In State of Oregon v. Sandoval, the court ruled that Oregonians have no “duty to retreat” when faced with a violent confrontation. The Supreme Court correctly noted that Oregon law contains no requirement to retreat from an attacker and that previous rulings to the contrary are not only incorrect, but obviously incorrect. The Court said, “On a purely textual level, ORS 161.219 contains no specific reference to ‘retreat’, ‘escape,’ or ‘other means of avoiding’ a deadly confrontation. Neither, in our view, does it contain any other wording that would suggest a duty of that kind.”

Can you Stand Your Ground in Oregon?

As a general rule, yes. You have no duty to retreat in your home before using or threatening the use of deadly force to protect or defend yourself or another person.

Does Oregon Have a Castle Doctrine Law?

The phrase “Castle Doctrine Law” is a reference to a legal doctrine which designates a person’s house as a place in which that person has protections and rights. The doctrine allows the owner or occupier to use force– up to and including deadly force– to defend oneself or another person against an intruder. For more information on the doctrine, read Wikipedia’s detailed history of the Castle Doctrine.

Oregon law does not explicitly reference the Castle Doctrine by name. However, the combination of Oregon’s statutes on use of force and the interpretation by the Oregon Supreme Court essentially mean that Oregon is a “Castle Doctrine”state and a “Stand Your Ground” state.

Is Oregon a “Make My Day Law” State?

No. The term “make my day law” is from a law passed in Colorado in 1985 which shielded people from any criminal or civil liability for using force against a home invader– including deadly force. Oregon does not have such an explicit statute.

Can I Shoot Someone Breaking Into My House in Oregon?

This is a very tough question.Too many possible scenarios with too many variables. If you plan on keeping a gun in the house for personal protection, learn how to safely use it. It’s your responsibility. You also need to understand Oregon’s firearm and self-defense laws. Also, it would be advisable for you to do everything you could to avoid shooting an intruder. Even if the law allows it, shooting and killing someone would almost certainly result in a very serious investigation, and possibly your arrest. If convicted, you’d likely go to prison.

If you’ve been charged with unlawful self-defense, invoke your right to remain silent and contact a criminal defense attorney immediately.


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