It is a generally understood right that if someone is actively threatening you with bodily injury or death, you may legally use force to protect yourself. However, in real-life situations involving self-defense, the line between lawful self-defense and becoming an unlawful aggressor is not always clear. It is important that everyone understands what constitutes lawful self-defense, but it is particularly important for gun owners and those licensed to carry firearms, as using a firearm to defend yourself means employing lethal force. You may have heard of terms such as “castle doctrine” and “stand-your-ground;” you should know what these terms mean and how they apply in New Jersey.
New Jersey’s Self-Defense Laws
Under New Jersey law, you have the right to defend yourself from the threat of death or bodily injury by using force. New Jersey’s self-defense law has three basic rules:
- You have a duty to retreat from a threat of death or bodily injury, unless you are in your home. The duty to retreat requires you to leave a threatening situation without using force, if it is possible for you to safely do so. Although you have no duty to retreat from your home, you should give a verbal warning before employing force to defend yourself, if possible.
- You may not use excessive force; instead, you may only use force proportional to the force being used against you. For example, you may not open fire with a handgun against someone who is merely throwing punches at you. In addition, you may not continue to apply force once the threat has passed; for example, you cannot continue to open fire on an attacker brought to the ground, or against an attacker who begins to flee from the altercation.
- You may not claim self-defense if you instigate the altercation; however, if you disengage or flee from the altercation and your victim pursues you, he or she becomes the aggressor and you may be entitled to defend yourself from any further force employed against you.
Self-defense may be legally employed by anyone so long as the above three rules are met. You don’t have to be a citizen or permanent resident of the U.S. to use lawful self-defense.
What Is the New Jersey Castle Doctrine?
The “castle doctrine” is a legal concept that comes from English common law, which states that a person has the right to defend their home (or their “castle”) from an intruder by employing force against the intruder. This stands in contrast to the duty to retreat that applies in public — a person being attacked in public must make a reasonable effort to retreat from the altercation. But a person may meet an intruder into his or her home with force. However, the castle doctrine does not apply if you start a fight in your own home.
The castle doctrine does not apply to other property you may own. For example, a store owner may not rely on the castle doctrine to employ force against looters or rioters; instead, the owner is expected to retreat (if he or she can safely do so) and contact law enforcement to confront the rioters or looters.
Does New Jersey Have a Stand-Your-Ground Law?
Stand-your-ground laws are a recent legal doctrine that has been adopted in multiple states across the U.S. However, New Jersey does not have a stand-your-ground law. The stand-your-ground law allows a person to meet a threat of injury or death faced in public with force; there is no duty to retreat. In New Jersey, you always have a duty to retreat from an attacker in public if you can safely do so.
Can You Use Deadly Force on an Intruder in Your Home?
Deadly force against an intruder in your home is only permissible where not employing deadly force would put your or other residents of your home in imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. You cannot, for example, use deadly force on an intruder who is simply stealing something from your home. And you must demand an intruder leave before employing deadly force against him or her (unless making the demand would put you at risk of serious injury or death).
Contact an Experienced Woodbridge Criminal Defense Lawyer About Your Assault or Homicide Charges in New Jersey
Were you arrested or charged with assault or homicide in New Jersey? The consequences of a conviction could be severe, leaving you with a permanent criminal record and possibly even sending you to jail. That is why you need to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible about your case. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio have successfully represented clients charged with assault or homicide in Freehold, Mt. Laurel, Jersey City, Princeton, and throughout New Jersey. Call (732) 334-7468 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation with a member of our legal team. We have an office conveniently located at 227 Main Street, Woodbridge, NJ 07095, as well as offices located in Freehold, Mt. Laurel, Jersey City, and Princeton.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.