“Stand your ground” laws have taken the spotlight in the news lately, in part due to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial in Florida. As a result, some Carolina residents have begun to question the status of North Carolina’s “stand your ground” law.
What is the statute of self-defense in NC?
According to G.S. 14.51.3, North Carolina law permits a person to use force, excluding deadly force, to defend themselves or others against imminent unlawful force. Deadly force is allowed if the person reasonably believes it’s necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, or under circumstances allowed by G.S. 14-51.2. If force is used in self-defense, the person is immune from criminal or civil liability unless the force is used against a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman lawfully performing their duties or the person knew or should have known the person was an officer or bail bondsman.
What is the Ruling on “Stand Your Ground” in North Carolina?
As of December 1, 2011, citizens of North Carolina had the legal right to defend themselves with deadly force in their homes, vehicles and workplace without the “duty to retreat.” “Stand your ground laws” exist in at least 25 states in addition to Florida and North Carolina.
These laws, sometimes called “Make My Day” laws or “Shoot First, Ask Questions Later” laws cover the extent to which a person can legally go to defend himself or others and the exceptions that apply.
The Stand Your Ground Law in North Carolina
North Carolina Stand Your Ground law is addressed in NCGS § 14-51.2 and § 14-51.3 and is summarized below:
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:
- You reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another; or
- You are in your home, vehicle, or workplace, and the person against whom the defensive force was used was an unlawful intruder or was attempting to forcibly and unlawfully enter one of the above.
What is Castle law in NC?
The second scenario is sometimes referred to as the Castle Doctrine, recognizing that one’s home is one’s Castle and that one should be able to legally defend yourself and your family when an intruder or trespasser poses a threat.
North Carolina’s Stand Your Ground Law provides protection for individuals in their homes, workplace, or motor vehicle. It is presumed that the lawful occupant of these locations has a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another if they use defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to another person who is unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has already entered the location, or is attempting to remove someone against their will from the location.
This presumption is rebuttable and does not apply in certain circumstances, such as when the person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in the location or is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman performing official duties.
The law does not impose a duty to retreat from an intruder, and it does not repeal or limit any other defense that may exist under common law. If a person uses force as permitted by this law, they are immune from civil or criminal liability, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who was lawfully acting in the performance of their official duties and identified themselves.
Some may ask, “What is the difference between ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and general ‘Self-Defense’ laws?”
Before the enactment of “Stand Your Ground” statutes, and in states that don’t currently have these laws, a person generally has a duty to retreat before being justified in using deadly force against an attacker. Without such a statute, if you can avoid confrontation or getaway, you must or you will risk criminal prosecution for assault, or depending on the outcome, manslaughter or murder.
A person is also limited to using “reasonable” force in the absence of a “Stand Your Ground” law. This means that a person cannot respond with deadly force when faced with non-deadly force such as a punch with a fist.
Until the enactment of these new statutes, the only justifiable use of force in self-defense was the return of the same level of force used against them; for example, a punch for a punch.
North Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law removes the duty to retreat and generally allows the use of deadly force when in one’s home, car, or workplace, under reasonable circumstances. The law presumes that such an invasion gives the occupant the requisite fear required to use deadly force in defense of themselves or their family.
Do You Need Legal Help Justifying the Use of the “Stand Your Ground” Law?
Should you find yourself in a situation in which you are being accused of a crime when you were acting in self-defense, it is important to consult an attorney about your legal options. I am experienced in this area of law and our Raleigh law firm can assist you in protecting your rights. Call 919-615-2473
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