MISSOURI — Twenty states have castle doctrines while even more have stand-your-ground laws, but what constitutes legal self-defense can still vary across these states.

For Missouri, both the castle doctrine and the stand-your-ground law say the law permits protecting oneself (or a third party, with exceptions) with deadly force should a person feel it is necessary.

This “necessary” part, however, is often not made clear and warrants a breakdown of the terminology.

Missouri Castle Doctrine Law

The “castle doctrine” is not a defined law that can be invoked, but rather a set of principles that may be incorporated into the defense of one’s self while on owned or leased property, as well as the defense of said property (e.g. vehicles, the home itself) or third parties (family) also present at the time of the threat.

Simply shooting a trespasser on your property can lead to criminal charges since not all trespassers are violent; the resident must be faced with a threat first. According to Missouri Revised Statutes 563.031:

[Protective] force is used against a person who unlawfully enters, remains after unlawfully entering, or attempts to unlawfully enter a dwelling, residence, or vehicle lawfully occupied by such person.

Castle doctrine does protect guests at a home where a break-in occurs, should they act with deadly force. But if a break-in occurs at a residence where you were not invited, you cannot use deadly force against that trespasser under castle doctrine.

Missouri Stand-Your-Ground Law

“Stand-your-ground” laws roughly define how an individual can defend themselves when faced with an imminent threat anywhere else; imminent being a keyword here because even threatening words towards a defending person can lead to a justified homicide.

But words made days or weeks ago cannot be acted upon in a self-defense manner.

Stand-your-ground states do not require the defending actor to retreat or remove themselves from the situation prior to applying defensive force. In contrast, some states like Arkansas, have a “duty to retreat” first while in public before defending.

Recent Developments

Last February, Senate Bill 666, sponsored by US Rep. Eric Burlison, would have strengthened Missouri’s stand-your-ground law by essentially giving shooters acting in self-defense the benefit of the doubt, thereby flipping the burden of proof and forcing police to have probable cause before arresting them.

The bill was heavily criticized by law enforcement and other lawmakers who eventually dubbed it the “Make Murder Legal Act.” It would die in the Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee in a 4-3 vote.