Legal experts explain how Wisconsin’s ‘Castle Doctrine’ applies to shooting between housemates

MADISON, Wis. – Legal experts say while Wisconsin’s Castle Doctrine law traditionally protects property owners from home invasions, it also applies in the case of a fatal shooting between two men who lived in the same house.

On Monday, Madison police took Doyle ‘Jay’ Reifert into custody after he allegedly shot and killed his roommate Brian Swan. The two lived in a multi-bedroom home on Madison’s west side along with several others.

Less than 48-hours later, the Dane County District Attorney’s Office made the decision not to charge Reifert, but to release him. District Attorney Ismael Ozanne wrote in a release that Reifert was covered under Castle Doctrine, as Swan had entered his room without permission and taken an aggressive stance.

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I personally have never heard of a Castle Doctrine case quite like this,” said Amy Scholz, an attorney with Grieve Law in Milwaukee. “Castle Doctrine requires that a person be unlawfully or forcefully entering your dwelling. So can we say that a person who lives there is forcefully or unlawfully entering another area of the home?”

Castle Doctrine itself dates back to the American Revolution, Scholz said.

Where it originated is actually back to the battle of Lexington and Concord,” she said. “The Redcoats were invading and destroying homes of Bostonians, and a man stood in his doorway and said a man’s home is his castle.”

Scholz says ultimately, prosecutors would have a difficult time proving Reifert isn’t protected under this law.

Even within a castle, there’s sub-castles, right?'” Scholz said. “To be clear, that’s just my own term- but that’s what the D.A.’s office is looking at here…this particular room in the home belongs to this particular person and nobody else has the privilege to enter into there.”

Attorney Mark Hinkston says in 2011, Wisconsin changed how the law itself was interpreted.

Prior to 2011, the burden was on the accused or the defendant to prove they were justified in their self defense,” he said. “The law in 2011 basically switched the burden to the prosecution to prove they were not justified, or actually to prove the defense doesn’t apply.”

This change gave defendants claiming Castle Doctrine more clout when it comes to the courts, Scholz said.

Where there are ambiguities in the law, we should interpret them in favor of the defendant,” she said. “That could be what’s happening in this situation as well. This may not be entirely black and white, whether it applies in this specific instance with this kind of interior room analysis, but we don’t know that it doesn’t, so we’re going to press pause here.”