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Posted Monday, July 15, 2013
Raleigh, NC - As of December 1, 2011, citizens throughout North Carolina had the legal right to defend themselves from a threat of violence without first being required to retreat. This was the date that North Carolina's Stand Your Ground law took effect.
Since the death of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 and with the ongoing criminal case of George Zimmerman in Florida, North Carolina's own self-defense laws have been questioned. Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder felony charges in the shooting death of 17-year-old Martin; he asserted that he acted in self defense and should be exempt from prosecution under Florida's Stand Your Ground Law.
North Carolina's Current Stand Your Ground Law
Stand Your Ground laws exist in at least 25 states, including North Carolina and Florida. Sometimes called "Shoot First" laws or "Make My Day" laws, the extent to which one can legally go to defend himself or another are dictated by these rules.
North Carolina Stand Your Ground law (N.C.G.S. 14 51.3) currently reads, in part, as follows:
[A] person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat in any place he or she has the lawful right to be if either of the following applies:
a) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.
b) Under the circumstances permitted pursuant to G.S. 14 51.2, generally that you are in your home, workplace or car and are in fear for yours or another's life
Subsection (b) is often referred to as the Castle Doctrine. This subsection recognizes that a home should be one's castle and that you should be allowed to legally defend yourself and your family when an intruder or trespasser poses a threat.
There are exceptions to the use of deadly force in self defense against the following people:
- Police officers or law enforcement
- A landlord or other person who also has a legal right to be in the place where you are
In addition, if the person has retreated or has stopped the threatening behavior, the use of deadly force may no longer be justified because the threat is no longer considered imminent.
What's The Difference Between Stand Your Ground And General Self Defense
Prior to enactment of stand your ground laws, and in states that don't currently have these laws; you generally have a duty to retreat before you will be justified in using force against an attacker. That means that if you can get away and avoid a confrontation, you must, or you risk criminal prosecution for assault, battery or, depending on the outcome, manslaughter or murder.
You also, generally, are limited to using reasonable force in the absence of a Stand Your Ground law similar to that in North Carolina. You cannot respond with deadly force when you have been punched with a fist, for example. Exchanging blow for blow has typically been a justifiable use of force in self defense, but using deadly force to respond to non-deadly force has not.
Stand your ground laws remove the duty to retreat and generally allow for the use of deadly force under reasonable circumstances. You do not have to try to get away before reacting to a threat with reasonable, and sometimes deadly, force.
Stand Your Ground Law Under Attack In North Carolina
In the wake of the Martin/Zimmerman criminal saga, the North Carolina legislature is considering eliminating the stand your ground law in this state. Entitled the "Gun Safety Act," a proposed bill in the 2013 session seeks to completely remove the right to defend yourself from another using deadly force in your home, your car, your workplace or other place in which you are legally present.
House Bill 976 would repeal North Carolina's Stand Your Ground law and revert the right of self defense in this state back to the common law, which requires an attempt to retreat before force is justified. The Castle Doctrine would be left intact, allowing the use of reasonable and even deadly force, to protect you or your family in your home.
The bill also seeks to change laws related to the storage of firearms and concealed-carry weapons permits.
Self Defense In North Carolina
If you have been charged with a crime after acting in self defense, you should seek the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer immediately. Self defense is not a cut-and-dried legal issue. As we have seen with the Zimmerman trial, there is always more than one account of what actually happened at a crime scene.
Self defense is an affirmative defense, meaning you admit that you attacked or caused harm to another person, but that you were justified in causing that harm to protect yourself or another. To succeed on a self defense claim, you must not:
- Have been the aggressor
- Have used unreasonable force
- Have continued to pursue the other person after he or she retreated
- Have had an intent to kill, but only to defend yourself or another
Convincing a prosecutor, judge or jury that you acted in self defense should be left in the hands of an expereinced defense attorney.
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