Keeping yourself and your family safe is vital. In many cases, crimes are charged in situations where people were using self-defense. In some cases, failing to follow self-defense rules may allow these charges to go through – but in most cases of true self-defense, you can get charges dropped and dismissed. There are four main areas of self-defense questions that our Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers are often asked. The attorneys at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain New Jersey self-defense laws related to self-defense in general, weapons for self-defense, the “castle doctrine,” and “stand your ground” rules.
When Can You Claim Self-Defense in New Jersey?
Self-defense is generally available as a defense to criminal charges in any situation where you faced physical violence, weapons, or what you believed to be weapons. It should always be legal to defend yourself and your family when you “reasonably [believe] that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting [yourself] against the use of unlawful force,” according to N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-4. However, New Jersey’s self-defense laws have limitations.
First, you should not act in self-defense against a police officer. If a police officer is arresting you, even if they are using unnecessary force, you can be charged with resisting arrest if you try to fight back. If the police officer’s force was unlawful and the arrest was illegal, they can face criminal charges for arresting or attacking you.
Second, the force you use must be proportional to the attack. If you believe that you could face death or serious injury, deadly force might be authorized – otherwise you can only use somewhat equal force back against the attacker. Deadly force is never allowed if you provoked the attack.
The use of force in self-defense is not allowed if you were being attacked by someone else on their own property (e.g., if you entered to burglarize a house, you cannot later claim self-defense against the homeowner). You also cannot use force to retrieve stolen property after a theft or to re-enter your property, since self-defense needs to be used to defend yourself or another person, not property.
What Weapons Can You Use in Self-Defense?
Use of a weapon in self-defense goes back to the proportionality of the force used. If you use a weapon, that might be perceived as deadly force. Even using a blunt weapon like a baseball bat can be considered deadly force.
Using a weapon in self-defense is impossible unless you have a weapon in the first place. Many self-defense products are actually illegal weapons in New Jersey. N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-3 makes it illegal to carry many knives, blackjacks, brass knuckles, and other weapons. However, manual open knives are sometimes permitted and could be used in self-defense when deadly force is permitted.
Pepper spray is legal in New Jersey for adults over 18 without a serious criminal record. Tasers or stun guns have been illegal since 1985, but a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2016 stopped enforcement of this ban. Guns, however, are illegal without a permit or license, and cannot be carried for self-defense without special approval.
Does New Jersey Have A Castle Doctrine Law?
“Castle doctrine” laws are laws authorizing the use of deadly force to protect your home from intruders. Typically, these laws are connected with “stand your ground laws,” which we will discuss in a moment.
In the home, castle doctrines usually come in two different types: the law either authorizes you to use deadly force against any unwanted entry to your home, or the law allows deadly force only when the aggressor uses serious force or is armed. New Jersey’s castle doctrine is the second type and allows you to use deadly force in your home only when you “[believe] such force is necessary to protect … against deadly or serious bodily harm.” This is the same standard for using deadly force to protect yourself outside the home – but the New Jersey castle doctrine adds that you have no duty retreat in your own home.
This means that the castle doctrine allows you to use deadly force only when it would otherwise be authorized, but it does not require you to try to run away from your home before using deadly force.
Does New Jersey Have Stand Your Ground Laws?
Stand your ground laws are similar to castle doctrine laws, but they deal with a duty to retreat outside the home. If you are attacked on the street, a stand your ground law allows you to use deadly force then and there – whereas states without a stand your ground law ask you to first attempt to flee the violence.
New Jersey is not a stand your ground state. While deadly force is allowed when you think you need to use it to protect against deadly force or serious bodily injury, the law requires you to retreat if that is an option. If you can avoid the use of deadly force by retreating, fleeing, or surrendering an item (e.g., your wallet), you cannot use deadly force in self-defense.
The New Jersey castle doctrine is the exception to the duty to retreat, and you do not have a duty to retreat in your own home before using deadly force. There may also be an exception and no duty to retreat in other private areas, such as your car or a friend’s home.
Atlantic City Self-Defense Lawyer Offering Free Consultations
If you were charged with assault, murder, or another crime involving self-defense, contact our law offices today. The Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych offer free consultations to help you fight the charges against you and get justice. To schedule a free consultation, contact our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.