Many sources online say that Minnesota imposes a 'duty to retreat' in all self defense situations. None of these sources online, whether they support the concept or not, cite any specific legislation regarding what law imposes a duty to retreat.

What specific law in the Minnesota statutes imposes a duty to retreat before defending one's person?

1 Answer 1


What specific law in the Minnesota statutes imposes a duty to retreat before defending one's person?

This is a long standing common law doctrine (i.e. a law established by binding precedents decided by appellate courts), which has guided the interpretation of the statutory codification in Minnesota of the right to self-defense. This is because the statutory codification of the right to self-defense in Minnesota was held by Minnesota appellate courts not to have been intended by Minnesota's legislature to abrogate the common law rules and case law which it codified. This decision was made because it followed one of the standard principles of statutory interpretation in common law jurisdictions like Minnesota.

One of the leading modern cases of the Minnesota Supreme Court addressing the issue states, in some of the pertinent parts:

Minnesota has recognized that a person who kills another in self-defense must have attempted to retreat if reasonably possible. See State v. Buchanan, 431 N.W.2d 542, 548 (Minn.1988); State v. Austin, 332 N.W.2d 21, 24 (Minn.1983). Appellant distinguishes his claim, asserting that there is no duty to retreat before using deadly force to prevent the commission of a felony in one's home. The state argues that self-defense within the home *900 and defense of dwelling are so similar that defense of dwelling must incorporate the self-defense duty to retreat.

Although self-defense retreat requirements were debated in common law, it was settled that there was no duty to retreat while in or defending one's dwelling. Cf. 1 Wayne R. LaFave & Austin W. Scott, Jr., Substantive Criminal Law, § 5.9(b) (1986); Rollin M. Perkins, Self-Defense Re-Examined, 1 UCLA L.Rev. 133, 150-53 (1953). The special status of the home has persisted over time, obviating retreat requirements for people engaging in self-defense within their homes. “ ‘It is not now and never has been the law that a man assailed in his own dwelling is bound to retreat. If assailed there, he may stand his ground and resist the attack. He is under no duty to take to the fields and the highways, a fugitive from his own home.’ ” Gainer v. State, 40 Md.App. 382, 391 A.2d 856, 862 (1978) (quoting People v. Tomlins, 213 N.Y. 240, 107 N.E. 496, 497-98 (1914)).

Minnesota has long adhered to the common law recognition of the home's importance, holding that “the house has a peculiar immunity [in] that it is sacred for the protection of [a person's] family.” State v. Touri, 101 Minn. 370, 374, 112 N.W. 422, 424 (1907); see also State v. Hare, 575 N.W.2d 828, 832 (Minn.1998) (citation omitted) (noting that at common law “defense of the home [was] considered equivalent to defense of life itself”). A resident has traditionally been empowered to use force, even deadly force, when necessary to protect the home. Hare, 575 N.W.2d at 832.

Minnesota's codifications of the common law defenses of dwelling and self-defense state in pertinent part:

"[R]easonable force may be used upon or toward the person of another without the other's consent when the following circumstances exist or the actor reasonably believes them to exist:

(3) when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person; or

(4) when used by any person in lawful possession of real or personal property, or by another assisting the person in lawful possession, in resisting a trespass upon or other unlawful interference with such property."

Minn.Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(3)-(4).

"The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode."

Minn.Stat. § 609.065.

Minnesota statutes have never addressed whether a duty to retreat attaches to defense of dwelling or self-defense claims. However, early Minnesota caselaw rejected a duty to retreat in cases of self-defense occurring in one's home.

State v. Carothers, 594 N.W.2d 897, 899–900 (Minn. 1999) (holding that "A duty to retreat is incompatible with the right to prevent the commission of a felony within one's home.").

State v. Carothers remains good law in Minnesota. See, e.g., State v. Devens, 852 N.W.2d 255, 258 (Minn. 2014) (holding that the duty to retreat applies in a common area hallway of an apartment building); State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. 2001).

The lack of a duty to retreat in one's own home, which is the law in Minnesota, is sometimes called the "Castle Doctrine" (from the aphorism, "your home is your castle").

A statute that abrogates the common law duty to retreat outside one's home is commonly called a "Stand Your Ground" law. Minnesota does not have a "Stand Your Ground" law.

  • This tells me a lot about duty to retreat in one's home, but not really where it comes from. I've found sources that say both that duty to retreat and castle doctrine "are common law". Is there a case where Minnesota courts decided that their common law was duty to retreat over castle doctrine? From the cases here, it seems that castle doctrine was not the original interpretation of Minnesota law.
    – tuskiomi
    Oct 29, 2023 at 16:06
  • 1
    @Tuskiomi The cases cited say the castle doctrine was the original interpretation of Minnesota law. Common law in the U.S. almost always traces back to earlier common law in pre-1776 England. There are no statutes at the bottom of the trail. The case law rules came first and the statutes codified them in some cases. Judges hundreds of years ago made it up. If you read State v. Buchanan, 431 N.W.2d 542, 548 (Minn.1988) and State v. Austin, 332 N.W.2d 21, 24 (Minn.1983) (you can google to get full text) you can trace it back to earlier cases back and back and back.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 29, 2023 at 22:43

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