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When Can You Claim Self-Defense in New Jersey?

March 30, 2018 | Posted In Criminal Law

If you have been charged with aggravated assault, battery, murder, manslaughter or any other violent offense under New Jersey law, one potential defense strategy you may have available is to claim that you acted out of self-defense. Self-defense is a complete defense to criminal culpability in New Jersey; however, it is also an “affirmative defense,” which means you have the burden of proving that you meet the statutory requirements for protection.

Self-Defense Under Section 2C:3-4 of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice

The defense of self-defense (or “self-protection”) is outlined in Section 2C:3-4 of the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice:

“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.”

When claiming self-defense, it is critical to show that you acted with reasonable force. Section 2C:3-4 does not provide a defense for all forms of self-protection; and, while the law leaves some room for flexibility, if you responded with deadly force when faced with what appeared to be a minor confrontation, the provisions of Section 2C:3-4 may not apply. Of course, cases involving self-defense are rarely straightforward and you should not make any assumptions about your ability to claim self-defense until you speak with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney.

Limitations on the Justifiable Use of Force in Self-Defense

In addition to requiring the use of reasonable force, New Jersey’s self-defense law includes certain other limitations as well. For example, use of force in self-defense is not justified:

  • To resist an arrest, even if the arrest is unlawful, unless the arresting officer makes use of unlawful force;
  • To resist force by the owner or occupant of a piece of property where the owner or occupant is lawfully using force in self-defense or defense of property;
  • Where the person claiming self-defense provoked the original attack; or,
  • Where it is possible to avoid the use of force with “complete safety” by retreating, provided that you are not required to retreat from your own dwelling prior to acting in self-defense (although limitations apply here as well).

In addition to providing an affirmative defense for self-protection, the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice also provides that use of force in defense of others and in defense of property can be justified under appropriate circumstances. The “defense of others” and “defense of property” affirmative defenses are both subject to their own unique limitations; but, if they apply under the circumstances of your case, they too can provide a complete defense to culpability for your alleged criminal offense.

Can You Assert Self-Defense in Your New Jersey Criminal Case?

If you are facing criminal charges in New Jersey and would like more information about the state’s self-defense law, you can contact our offices for a confidential consultation. To speak with an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney about your case, please call (877) 435-6371 or send us a message online today.

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