Self-Defense: Wyoming’s “Castle Doctrine”

IMPORTANT UPDATE (modified December 5, 2022)

On December 1, 2022, the Wyoming Supreme Court in a 3-2 decision expanded Wyoming’s “castle doctrine” to protect individuals who use force or deadly force against people who appear to be trying to enter vehicles adapted for overnight accommodation (i.e., sleeping in the vehicle). Further, the Court expanded the “castle doctrine” so that evidence that a would-be intruder actually attempted to enter a home or habitation is no longer required to assert the “castle doctrine” as a defense, even where deadly force is used. More on this development here.

The “castle doctrine” is the common law principle that says individuals can use force, including deadly force, to protect against an intruder in their home.

In 2018, the Wyoming legislature amended Wyoming’s self-defense statute, Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-602, to add in language immunizing people from prosecution for using defensive force, including deadly force, against an intruder who:

  • was “in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering” the home or habitation of another person
  • who had already “unlawfully and forcibly entered” the home or habitation of another person
  • was attempting to remove another against his will from his home or habitation

The new provision states:

A person who uses reasonable defensive force . . . shall not be criminally prosecuted for that use of reasonable defensive force.

Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-602(f)

The statutory amendment also created a presumption that the person using defensive force against an intruder “held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury to himself or another.” The power of this presumption and the newly added Subsection(f) is that a person will virtually always have the right to use deadly force against another person who is attempting to enter or who has entered their home and this right bars the State from prosecuting the person who exercises this right by using deadly force against an intruder in their home. See State v. John, 2020 WY 46, ¶¶ 23-27 (“Subsection(f) clearly and unambiguously prohibits prosecution of a person who uses reasonable defensive force.”).

This new law is so potent that the Wyoming Supreme Court recently determined that a person was immune from prosecution under Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-602(f) even if they were engaged in “mutual combat” with the other person. See John, 2020 WY 46, ¶ 54. The only instance where a person cannot avail themselves of this new rule when using force or deadly force against an intruder in their home is in the hard-to-imagine scenario where the person is the “initial aggressor” against the intruder. See id. Not sure how that could arise, but there it is.

Here is the full case from the Wyoming Supreme Court:

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s