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Let's say I have to trespass for a legal reason, e.g. a court order allows me to retrieve property.

Am I allowed to defend myself while trespassing? Can I bring weapons or whatever is needed to defend myself while carrying out the order?

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    You should probably clarify what you mean by "defend". You are always allowed to defend yourself by for example wearing a helmet or dodge a blow or run away. Are you actually only asking over self-defense or are you asking whether you can enforce the "e.g. court order"? For example if the owner pulls a gun and tells you to leave, pulling your own gun is not really self-defense any more.
    – nvoigt
    Nov 12, 2021 at 12:32
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    A court order allowing you to retrieve things does not entitle you to break the law. You would still trespassing unless the order explicitly gave you permission to enter the property to retrieve them.
    – Paul Smith
    Nov 12, 2021 at 17:03
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    If you have a legal reason sufficient to overcome the fact that you are trespassing (e.g. an easement or right under a statute to do so), you aren't trespassing.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 12, 2021 at 17:42
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    This is three different questions arbitrarily welded together. You're either allowed to carry a weapon or you're not. You're either trespassing or you're not. And whether or not you legally defended yourself is to be decided in court.
    – Mazura
    Nov 13, 2021 at 0:57
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    By definition you can't legally trespass - you either there for a legal reason or you're trespassing.
    – deep64blue
    Nov 13, 2021 at 12:17

2 Answers 2

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If a court authorizes you to enter a property that won't be a trespass.

Such an authorization would be meant to be communicated to the property owner before you enter it — so that they allow you to and do not create a situation in which you would need to defend yourself.

But if they do create such a situation despite being informed of the court order, then yes, by all means — you would be able to defend yourself as if it was happening in a public place.

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    -1 This states as absolutes things which are only true in some cases or in some jurisdictions, Nov 12, 2021 at 6:27
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    @DavidSiegel Can you give an example when this answer is wrong in California?
    – Greendrake
    Nov 12, 2021 at 8:05
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    This is known as "Duty to Retreat" en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duty_to_retreat. In contrast there is Stand Your Ground - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stand-your-ground_law which says one does not have a duty to retreat when one is in a place where one is lawfully present. Since the legality of one's presence depends on the court order, it is probable that the court order could answer the question an a Stand Your Ground state. In a Duty to Retreat state it is obvious, one must retreat.
    – emory
    Nov 12, 2021 at 15:19
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    This answer is wrong, and dangerously so. California is a Duty To Retreat State and saying "But if they do create such a situation despite being informed of the court order, then yes, by all means — you would be able to defend yourself as if it was happening in a public place" is at best disingenuous. There is no "right to defend yourself" in California, there is only the right to disengage from the situation.
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 12, 2021 at 15:57
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    @CGCampbell The answer says "defend yourself as if it was happening in a public place". In a public place you have a Duty to Retreat, so they are saying you also have a Duty to Retreat in this case, which is correct. Note that having a "Duty to Retreat" does not mean you cannot defend yourself. If someone is attacking you in such a way that retreating wouldn't make you safe then you can take other actions. Nov 12, 2021 at 17:27
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As the answer by Greendrake says, if you have a a legal reason, to enter property, you re not a trespasser. Trespassing is generally defined as entering on property against the expressed will of the owner or lawful occupant, without lawful authority. A firefighter is not trespassing when responding to a fire, even if the owner orders the firefighter to leave. A building inspector is not tresspassing while making an inspection (if local law grants an inspector access). Neither is a police officer with a warrant for entry, or a person with a court order to recover property.

In some cases such lawful authority must be communicated to the owner, in others it need not be, this depends on the nature of the authority and the exact provisions of the governing law.

Whether such a person entering with authority may be armed depends very much on the local law, and the nature of the authority. In some cases and some places such a person is free to be armed, in others this would be illegal.

If one is lawfully present somewhere and is attacked, one is entitled to defend oneself (or another), although there may be a duty to avoid a confrontation by retreating if this is reasonably possible when not in one's own home in some jurisdictions (such as California). But the use of deadly force (such as a gun) is generally not lawful unless there is an imminent threat of death or serious injury. None of this is legally different when one is lawfully on another's property than when one is in a public place.

California Law

California Penal Code section 693 provides that:

Resistance sufficient to prevent the offense may be made by the party about to be injured:

  1. To prevent an offense against his person, or his family, or some member thereof.

  2. To prevent an illegal attempt by force to take or injure property in his lawful possession.

It should be read together with sections 692 and 694.

Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instruction #505 reads:

The defendant acted in lawful (self-defense/ [or] defense of another) if:

  1. The defendant reasonably believed that (he/she/ [or] someone else/ [or] ) was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury [or was in imminent danger of being (raped/maimed/robbed/ )];
  2. The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger;
    AND
  3. The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

Belief in future harm is not sufficient, no matter how great or how likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed there was imminent danger of death or great bodily injury to (himself/herself/ [or] someone else). Defendant’s belief must have been reasonable and (he/she) must have acted only because of that belief. The defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation.

If the defendant used more force than was reasonable, the [attempted] killing was not justified

According to "California Self-Defense Laws" (a page posted by a CA law firm:

California law allows use of force in self-defense or defense of others when you reasonably believe that you or they are in imminent danger of physical harm, and that force is necessary to stop the danger. However, you may only use the degree of force reasonably necessary under the circumstances.

The page "California Self Defense Laws" from Findlaw reads:

The right to use force -- even deadly force if necessary -- to defend oneself is a broadly accepted principle of the criminal justice system. But while all states allow defendants to claim self defense if they can back up such claims, states differ on the scope of what may be considered appropriate use of force and when it may be applied. ... As a general rule of thumb, any force used against an intruder must be proportionate to the harm reasonably feared.

In People v. King {Crim. No. 20380. Supreme Court of California. August 29, 1978.} The California Supreme Court held that self-defense was a possible defense to a charge of possession of a handgun by a felon, and wrote about the right of self-defense in CA law. The opinion reads:

[I]t is apparent that the conviction cannot stand if the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury regarding the right of self-defense as it related to the section 12021 charge. ...

When enacting section 12021 and its predecessor statute, the Legislature is presumed to have been aware of the several existing statutes giving any person the right to use force, including deadly force in appropriate circumstances, in defense of self or others. This right has been included in provisions of the Penal Code since its enactment in 1872. Section 692 provides:

Lawful resistance to the commission of a public offense may be made:

  1. By the party about to be injured;

  2. By other parties."

Section 693 provides:

Resistance sufficient to prevent the offense may be made by the party about to be injured:

  1. To prevent an offense against his person, or his family, or some member thereof.

  2. To prevent an illegal attempt by force to take or injure property in his lawful possession.

Section 694 extends the right to defend others, providing:

Any other person, in aid or defense of the person about to be injured, may make resistance sufficient to prevent the offense.

Although the extent of these rights has been defined and circumscribed by judicial decision (see, e.g., People v. Ceballos, supra, 12 Cal.3d 470) none of these sections has been amended to restrict the rights affirmed therein since its adoption over a century ago.

Civil Code section 50, affirms the same rights, providing:

Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of oneself, or of a wife, husband, child, parent, or other relative, or member of one's family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest. It, too, was adopted in 1872, and it was amended in 1874 to expand the right of defense first declared to encompass guests. Similarly the provisions of sections 197 and 198 governing the circumstances in which homicide is justifiable were included in the Penal Code of 1872, and are traceable to the Statutes of 1850.

...

Use of a concealable firearm in self-defense is neither a crime nor an unlawful purpose. ... We conclude, therefore, that the prohibition of section 12021 was not intended to affect a felon's right to use a concealable firearm in self-defense, but was intended only to prohibit members of the affected classes from arming themselves with concealable firearms or having such weapons in their custody or control in circumstances other than those in which the right to use deadly force in self-defense exists or reasonably appears to exist. Thus, when a member of one of the affected classes is in imminent peril of great bodily harm or reasonably believes himself or others to be in such danger, and without preconceived design on his part a firearm is made available to him, his temporary possession of that weapon for a period no longer than that in which the necessity or apparent necessity to use it in self-defense continues, does not violate section 12021. As in all cases in which deadly force is used or threatened in self-defense, however, the use of the firearm must be reasonable under the circumstances and may be resorted to only if no other alternative means of avoiding the danger are available. In the case of a felon defending himself alone, such alternatives may include retreat where other persons would not be required to do so.

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    More text than Greendrake's, but not giving much more... Nov 12, 2021 at 10:21
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    @Itération122442 and much more precise and accurate in that it better defines the limits of your rights rather than just claiming them as absolutes.
    – jwenting
    Nov 12, 2021 at 12:59
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    @Itération 122442 I have added sources giving details on the California law on self-defense. Nov 12, 2021 at 17:47

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