If you are facing assault, manslaughter or murder charges in New Jersey, you may—quite understandably—have questions about the state’s position on “stand your ground.” Several states have adopted stand-your-ground laws that allow people to fight to protect themselves and their property in the event of an attack or home invasion.
However, New Jersey is not one of these states.
Many residents are surprised to learn that New Jersey does not have a stand-your-ground law. New Jersey residents cannot legally fight to protect themselves in all circumstances. However, self-defense and other laws effectively allow New Jersey residents to stand their ground in some cases, and if you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey after being the victim of an attack or home invasion, you will want to discuss your options with an experienced New Jersey assault lawyer promptly.
Alternatives to the “Stand Your Ground” Defense in New Jersey
Even though New Jersey does not have a stand-your-ground law, the law still recognizes that there are various scenarios in which the use of force may be justified. These “justification” defenses fall into three main categories. If your use of force was justified, then you are not criminally liable, and you do not deserve to face the life-altering consequences of an assault, manslaughter or murder conviction.
The scenarios in which New Jersey law recognizes the justifiable use of force are:
- Defense of others
- Defense of property (the “castle doctrine”)
Self-defense is recognized as justification for the use of force in Section 2C:3-4 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes. This section of the law states:
“Subject to the provisions of this section and of section 2C:3-9, the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.”
Section 2C:3-9 establishes various limitations on the availability of self-defense as a defense to assault and other criminal charges. For example, it provides that a defendant cannot claim self-defense when his or her “belief in the unlawfulness of the force or conduct against which he employs protective force . . . is erroneous.”
Section 2C:3-4 establishes various limitations as well. Most notably, it provides that the use of deadly force is not justified when a person “knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating or by surrendering possession of a thing to a person asserting a claim of right thereto.” In other words, while some states have stand-your-ground laws, New Jersey law establishes an express duty to retreat in many (but not all) cases.
2. Defense of Others
New Jersey also allows for the use of force to protect others in some circumstances. The “defense of others” defense is outlined in Section 2C:3-5 of the New Jersey Revised Statutes. Under Section 2C:3-5, the use of force to defend someone else is justified if the use of force for self-defense would be justified under the same circumstances and:
- “Under the circumstances as the actor reasonably believes them to be, the person whom he seeks to protect would be justified in using such protective force; and
- “The actor reasonably believes that his intervention is necessary for the protection of such other person.”
The “defense of others” statute also expressly addresses the duty to retreat. Subsection 2C:3-5.b. of the statute provides that:
- “When the actor would be obliged . . . to retreat or take other action he is not obliged to do so before using force for the protection of another person unless he knows that he can thereby secure the complete safety of such other person;
- “When the person whom the actor seeks to protect would be obliged . . . to retreat or take similar action if he knew that he could obtain complete safety by so doing, the actor is obliged to try to cause him to do so before using force in his protection if the actor knows that he can obtain complete safety in that way; and
- “Neither the actor nor the person whom he seeks to protect is obliged to retreat when in the other's dwelling to any greater extent than in his own.”
This last point brings us to the third situation in which the use of force is justified in New Jersey. This is when the state’s “castle doctrine” applies.
3. Defense of Property (the “Castle Doctrine”)
New Jersey’s “castle doctrine” (Section 2C:3-6) applies when you are in your home and an intruder trespasses on your property. In this situation, you generally do not have a duty to retreat before using force in defense of yourself or your property.
However, even here there are exceptions. For example, the law requires that homeowners request intruders desist (i.e., leave their property) unless doing so would be useless or dangerous. Additionally, the law only allows the use of deadly force in certain circumstances (i.e., if you reasonably feared for your life).
As a result, determining whether New Jersey’s “castle doctrine” applies can quickly get very complicated. This is true for New Jersey’s self-defense and defense-of-others defenses as well. To determine if the law protects you, you will need to discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey assault lawyer. Despite the risks involved, judges often are not sympathetic to defendants accused of using excessive force, and protecting yourself in court will require experienced legal representation.
Request a Confidential Consultation with a New Jersey Assault Lawyer Today
If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey and have questions about whether your use of force was legally justified, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. We handle cases involving all types of serious criminal charges statewide. To discuss your case with an experienced New Jersey assault lawyer in confidence, call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can reach you online now.