Oregon Castle Doctrine

The idea that a person has the right to defend themselves and their property is nothing new in Oregon or throughout the United States. Self-defense claims regularly occur in Oregon if a person has to use force against a burglar or a home invader, and the conversation usually revolves around whether or not the use of force was justified. Whether or not use of force is lawful or unlawful is going to depend on the laws of the state of Oregon. In that respect, many people have heard of the concept of the “castle doctrine.”

What is the “castle doctrine?”

The term “castle doctrine” arises from the fact that people have traditionally been granted the right to defend their own homes, which in these cases could be referred to as the “castle.” However, these laws are often referred to as “stand your ground” laws, and there has been significant debate over when and where a person can defend themselves beyond their own home.

In Oregon, there is no “stand your ground” law organized around any particular locations. In reality, the law in Oregon allows a person to defend their own life regardless of the location. Many states have laws that require a person to retreat or attempt an escape an encounter before they use deadly force to protect themselves. Oregon does not have such “duty to retreat” laws.

When we turn to the law in Oregon (ORS 161.219), we can see that the limitation on the use of deadly force reads as follows:

  • 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.

What will a person need to prove in these cases?

Situations that arise in which a person needs to defend themselves usually happen quickly and unexpectedly. In order for a person to justify their actions of self-defense, they need to be able to show that they were acting reasonably. In other words, the threat to a person’s life needs to be imminent and about to happen. For example, if the person that defended themselves was about to get shot, get hit in the head with a heavy object by an attacker, or get kidnapped by another individual, this would typically justify the use of deadly force.

Using deadly force will need to appear proportionate to the threat that a person was experiencing at the time they used force. For example, if an attacker is about to strike somebody with a small tree branch, it may be harder to justify using deadly force with a gun in response. However, if an attacker brandishes a firearm and threatens to use it eminently, the use of deadly force to counter this threat is more likely to be considered justified.

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