The Difference Between The Castle Doctrine And Stand Your Ground Gun Laws

A simple mistake could have cost 16-year-old Kansas City, Missouri resident Ralph Yarl his life. On an errand to pick up his twin younger brothers, Yarl, who is Black, went to the wrong address and was shot twice by 84-year-old Andrew D. Lester, a white man, on Lester's doorstep, The New York Times reports. On the books in Missouri are a set of self-defense laws known as the castle doctrine, within which is a controversial stand-your-ground law. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and amid widespread protest in the Kansas City area, investigators considered how one or both of these Missouri laws might affect the outcome of the Lester case, according to The Kansas City Star.

On the night he was shot, Yarl was reportedly struck twice: Once in the head near the hairline, and again on his right arm after he fell to the ground. Yarl then crawled away to find assistance and medical help. After repeatedly trying and failing to find someone who would help him, one of Lester's neighbors finally called emergency services. Yarl spent three nights in the hospital and underwent surgery to remove the bullets, NPR writes. According to Lester (pictured), he shot Yarl because he feared for his safety, The Washington Post reports. That night, Lester was also taken into police custody, and then released. He was later arrested on April 18 on first-degree assault, among other charges (via KSHB). Whether any verbal exchange took place between Yarl and Lester was unclear.

Missouri's castle doctrine law passed in 2007

Under Missouri's castle doctrine law, passed in 2007, citizens are allowed to use deadly force to defend themselves or their belongings on their private property, including their home and vehicle, but also anywhere else that an individual "has the right to be," the law states. In such a situation, the shooter is also under no obligation to first retreat before using deadly force, an aspect of the law passed in 2016. Previously, the castle doctrine stated that individuals were only required to retreat when outside their home, but later additions to the stand-your-ground laws in Missouri broadened that definition.

After 2016, Missouri law stated no attempt to retreat was necessary anywhere that a person could claim a right to be — otherwise known as stand your ground. The burden of proof in such a situation does rest with the person who pulled the trigger, though, as The Kansas City Star reports. To do so, as was speculated could happen in the Yarl shooting, Missouri criminal defense attorney Kevin Jamison told The Star that so-called J.A.M. elements need to apply: jeopardy, ability, and means. "First, is the person being placed in jeopardy? Does the person making the threats have the ability to carry out the threat? And third, does he have the means to carry out the threat?" he said.

Lester could face life in prison

When Ralph Yarl approached Lester's home, he was reportedly unarmed, and there is no evidence he entered Lester's home, leading Missouri attorney Kevin Jamison to state: "​​You can't just shoot people who come to your door." Yarl reportedly rang Lester's doorbell. According to Lester, he claimed he feared for his safety and fired through the glass. According to Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson, the shooting was racially motivated and if convicted, Lester could receive a life sentence. According to Lester, he believed he "was protecting himself from a physical confrontation and could not take the chance of the male coming in."

For Lester to be convicted, the use of unlawful force would need to be proven, according to Jamison. But there's little legal precedent in the state of Missouri for doing so, he said. As of this report, whether Missouri's self-defense laws would be applicable in the Yarl situation is undetermined. In addition to assault in the first degree charges, a class-A felony carrying a possible life sentence, Lester was also charged with armed criminal action, with the potential for a 15-year prison sentence, if convicted. According to Missouri state Representative Maggie Nurrenbern: "I think we now have a shoot first, ask later policy in this state, or at least that is what people have interpreted it to be."