Castle Doctrine Doesn't Apply to Apartment Hallway, MN High Court Holds

Minnesota case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: criminal law, castle doctrine.

State of Minnesota v. Daniel Joseph Devens. MN criminal law, castle doctrine

In October 2011, Daniel Joseph Devens heard loud noises coming from the hallway of his Waseca apartment building. He opened the door and saw an individual knocking on a door about 35 feet away. Even though the building was supposed to be secure, someone had left the outer door propped open. Devens knew that the person didn't live in the building. Devens asked the person to leave and he finally complied. The two men walked toward the exit. There was a dispute as to how the fight started, but as the two neared the door, a fight ensued, and the other man fell down the stairs and lost consciousness.

Devens was charged with third-degree assault, and argued that he had acted in self defense. The state asked for a jury instruction saying that Devens had a duty to retreat. Devens argued that he had no duty to retreat, since there is no such duty inside a person's own home. The trial court agreed with the state, since Devens had a safer place to which he could retreat, namely, his own apartment. The jury found Devens guilty, and he appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed. Devens then took his case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Minnesota Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by Justice Lillehaug, held that the district court did not err when it instructed the jury that appellant, while in the hallway of his apartment building, had a duty to retreat if reasonably possible before acting in self-defense against a non-resident of the building.

Even though the court agreed that Minnesota law recognizes the "castle doctrine," it declined to extend this doctrine to the hallway of an apartment building.

No. A12-2065 (Minn. Aug. 20, 2014).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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