What Are the Self-Defense Laws in New Jersey?

Violent crimes happen every day. While we often try to protect ourselves by avoiding dangerous situations, sometimes the danger is inescapable. When confronted with a violent attacker, you might need to use force to save yourself from harm. The tricky thing about using force in self-defense is that it is not always permitted. When you are faced with danger and emotions are running high, it can be difficult to know if using force is the right thing to do.

The laws regarding the use of justifiable force and self-defense vary from state to state. In New Jersey, the use of force is usually permitted to protect yourself, other people, and property. However, there are limitations on what kind of force you can use. The force used to defend yourself must be proportional to the force used against you. Not only that but deadly force can never be used to protect property, only people. As a general rule, if you reasonably believe you must use force to save yourself, your actions may be justifiable.

We like to think that law enforcement can quickly identify self-defense cases and let innocent victims go without any criminal charges. Unfortunately, this is simply not so. In many cases, the police are unsure about a victim’s self-defense story, and that victim could be arrested and charged with a violent crime. If you or someone you know is in a similar situation, call our New Jersey self-defense attorneys for help. We will help you prove your innocence by showing your use of force was a justifiable act of self-defense. Call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 to schedule a free legal consultation with our team.

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. According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-4, it may be legal to defend yourself and your family when you reasonably believe that force is needed to shield yourself from unlawful force. 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 cannot use force to retrieve stolen property after a theft or re-enter your property since self-defense needs to be used to defend yourself or another person, not property.

Contact our New Jersey self-defense attorneys for help with your case.

Defense of Others in New Jersey

Self-Defense can be claimed when you are protecting yourself or a third party you believe needs protection. However, under N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-5, there are certain limitations and conditions on using force to protect other people. Generally, you cannot claim the defense of a third party unless that third party would have had the right to use self-defense themselves.

There are a few ways you can determine whether you can use justifiable force to defend a third party. First, you may use force to protect someone else if you believe you would be justified in using that same force to protect yourself if the perceived attack was happening to you. For example, suppose you witness a man attacking a woman on the street. If you believe that you could use justifiable force to defend yourself if you were in the woman’s place, then you might be able to do so to protect the woman as a third party.

A second caveat is that you must reasonably believe that intervening is necessary to protect the other person. Simply believing you must intervene is not enough. Your belief must be reasonable. The phrase “reasonable belief” is a bit vague but can be supported by how you observed the scene. A victim pushed to the ground, and an attacker armed with a gun or knife might make for a reasonable belief that your intervention is necessary. However, witnessing one person use harsh words against another might not support a reasonable belief that the third party needs protection.

The situation can become complicated when you take into consideration a duty to retreat. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-5(b)(1)-(2), if you have an opportunity to safely escape the scene, you do not have to do so before attempting to protect the other person. However, if that other person has an opportunity to safely escape, you must try to get them to take that opportunity before using any force.

If you believe your use of force to protect the third party was justifiable, contact our New Jersey self-defense attorneys for help.

Proportionality of Force in Self-Defense Case in New Jersey

The force you use to defend yourself or others must be proportional to the force being used against you. Essentially, this rule means that the force you use to protect yourself cannot greatly exceed the force from your attacker. Perhaps the most significant aspect of this rule is that you cannot use deadly force against non-deadly force.

While the use of force, or even deadly force, may be permissible in cases of self-defense or defense of others, it is more limited in defense of property. Property is not as important as human life or safety, so you can never use deadly force to protect property, even if you are an innocent victim. However, there may be circumstances in which the defense of others and the defense of property overlap.

Assume that a burglar has broken into your home while your family is asleep upstairs. You might think to yourself that you should grab a gun if you have one and shoot the intruder. This situation becomes tricky to navigate legally because it might be unclear if you are defending your home or family. While you could shoot the intruder if you thought they would harm your family, you could not shoot them to prevent them from stealing.

If you are involved in legal proceedings in which you used deadly force, call our New Jersey self-defense attorneys for help. We will work to help you prove that your actions were justifiable under the circumstances.

What Weapons Can You Use in Self-Defense in New Jersey?

The 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. This is further explored in the below discussion about Castle Doctrine laws.

When You Can’t Claim Self-Defense in New Jersey

Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-4(b), there are several restrictions on when you can use justifiable force to protect yourself or others. You might encounter situations where using force to defend yourself feels like the right thing to do, but the law might say otherwise.

It is illegal to use force to resist an arrest you know is being conducted by law enforcement, even if the arrest is unlawful. It may also be an unjustifiable use of force to defend yourself as a trespasser. As a trespasser, you may not resist the force used by the property owner or occupier to remove you as a trespasser.

However, this rule could be circumvented if the property owner began using deadly force, as deadly force is never permissible when defending property. Also, a property owner cannot use force to defend their property against law enforcement attempting to make an arrest.

On the other hand, a trespasser might not be a trespasser at all. Instead, you might have been unlawfully disposed of the property and are attempting to re-enter or recapture the property. In such a case, using force to defend yourself against the dispossessor would be justified.

A key element of self-defense is the reasonableness of your beliefs. You must reasonably believe force is needed to protect yourself against death or serious bodily harm. Use of force is not justifiable unless you truly believe you are in danger of death or serious bodily harm. Even if you truly believe you need to use force, but that belief is not reasonable, your actions will not be justified.

Self-defense is also not justifiable if you provoked the use of force against you. It is also not justifiable if you could avoid using force entirely by safely retreating or surrendering or complying with the aggressor’s demands. However, you have no duty to retreat in your home unless you were the initial aggressor. For help with your case, call our New Jersey self-defense attorneys now.

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 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 that force is needed to protect yourself from death or 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 to retreat in your own home.

This means that the Castle Doctrine allows you to use deadly force only when it would ordinarily be authorized, but it does not require you to try to run away from your home before using deadly force. However, you cannot use deadly force to protect your home, but only yourself or others inside your home. Remember, deadly force is usually not permitted when defending property.

If you had to use force to protect yourself in your own home, contact our New Jersey self-defense lawyers for assistance with your case.

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 using 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. Call our New Jersey self-defense attorneys for more information and guidance.

Atlantic City Self-Defense Lawyers 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) 445-3512.

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