With Christmas closing in, I replayed the events of a home invasion last year when I unsure how I could respond. Luckily, in my case, things worked out well because I live near a police station and they were only a couple minutes away. But in a similar occurrences in Baltimore County this month, thing didn't go so well.
Maryland also follows the common law rule that, outside of one's home, a person, before using deadly force in self-defense, has the duty "'to retreat or avoid danger if such means were within his power and consistent with his safety.'" DeVaughn v. State, 232 Md. 447, 453, 194 A.2d 109, 112 (1963), cert. denied, 376 U.S. 527 (1964), quoting Bruce v. State, 218 Md. 87, 97, 145 A.2d 428, 433 (1958). See also Burch v. State, 346 Md. 253, 283, 696 A.2d 443, 458 (1997).
But a person does not have to retreat if it would not be safe for the person to do so. "[I]f the peril of the defendant was imminent, he did not have to retreat but had a right to stand his ground and to defend and protect himself." Bruce v. State, supra, 218 Md. at 97, 145 A.2d at 433.
The duty to retreat also does not apply if one is attacked in one's own home. "[A] man faced with the danger of an attack upon his dwelling need not retreat from his home to escape the danger, but instead may stand his ground and, if necessary to repel the attack, may kill the attacker." Crawford v. State, 231 Md. 354, 361, 190 A.2d 538, 541 (1963). The Court of Appeals said in Crawford, a case in which the defendant fatally shot a younger man who was attempting to break into his home to beat and rob him:
*A man is not bound to retreat from his house. He may stand his ground there and kill an[y] person who attempts to commit a felony therein, or who attempts to enter by force for the purpose of committing a felony, or of inflicting great bodily harm upon an inmate. In such a case the owner or any member of the family, or even a lodger in the house, may meet the intruder at the threshold, and prevent him from entering by any means rendered necessary by the exigency, even to the taking of his life, and the homicide will be justifiable.
This principle is known as the "Castle Doctrine", "the name being derived from the foundational principle that 'a man's home is his castle' and his ultimate retreat." Barton v. State, 46 Md. App. 616, 618, 420 A.2d 1009, 1010-1011 (1980). A man "is not bound to flee and become a fugitive from his own home, for, if that were required, there would, theoretically, be no refuge for him anywhere in the world." .
A person does not have to be the owner of the home or the head of the household in order to be able to invoke the "Castle Doctrine." Instead, "any member of the household, whether or not he or she has a proprietary or leasehold interest in the property, is within its ambit . . . ." .
However, even in one's own home, the degree of force used in self-defense must not be "excessive." Crawford v. State, supra, 231 Md. at 362, 190 A.2d at 542. Quoting a treatise on criminal law, the Court of Appeals said in Crawford:
It is a justifiable homicide to kill to prevent the commission of a felony by force or surprise.
The crimes in prevention of which life may be taken are such and only such as are committed by forcible means, violence, and surprise, such as murder, robbery, burglary, rape, or arson.
It is also essential that killing is necessary to prevent the commission of the felony in question. If other methods could prevent its commission, a homicide is not justified; all other means of preventing the crime must first be exhausted.