Knowing Your Rights: Self-Defense Laws in Hawaii

Since the fatal Florida shooting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in February 2012 and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal*, “Stand Your Ground” laws have constantly been under national scrutiny and never far from the news. These laws address one’s rights to self-defense, specifically the right to use deadly force in protection against bodily injury or death without any requirement to evade or retreat.

Most states, including Hawaii, have adopted laws based on the Castle Doctrine, which permits the use of reasonable force, including deadly force, in order to protect one’s own life or another’s life when at home, or in their “castle,” without being liable to prosecution. The Castle Doctrine concept was established as English common law by 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke who was known for the saying, “A man’s house is his castle — et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium (and where shall a man be safe if it be not in his own house?)”

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes 703-304, you have the right to use deadly force if you believe it is immediately “necessary to protect [yourself] against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, rape, or forcible sodomy.”

However, it is NOT justifiable to use force under the following circumstances:

  • To resist an arrest, even if it is an unlawful arrest, when you know the arrest is being made by a law enforcement officer
  • To resist force made by a property owner, or someone acting on the property owner’s behalf, who is trying to protect their property (with exceptions)
  • If you purposely provoked the use of force against yourself with the intention to cause injury or death to your aggressor
  • If you can avoid the necessity of force by retreating to complete safety or by complying with a demand (with exceptions)

The difference between the Castle Doctrine type of law enacted by Hawaii and the Stand Your Ground law in Florida and at least 21 other states is that here in Hawaii we have a duty to try to retreat to safety before using deadly force if we are not on our own property or at work. Stand Your Ground states remove the duty to retreat first if someone feels threatened, no matter where they are as long as they have a legal right to be there. Critics of Stand Your Ground often refer to these laws as “Shoot First” and have pointed out the number of “justifiable” homicides often grow substantially after legislation is passed.

If you used self-defense and now face legal consequences, please contact Hawaii Criminal Defense Attorney David Sereno to schedule your free consultation.

*Though George Zimmerman’s lawyers did not end up invoking Florida’s stand your ground law in his defense, Judge Debra Nelson made it clear that the jury should consider that Zimmerman had no duty to retreat as per Florida’s stand-your-ground law.

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