Is North Carolina A ‘Stand Your Ground’ State?
On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Thursday, October 21, 2021
North Carolina is a “stand your ground” state because of its civil and criminal law protections for those using force to defend themselves under certain circumstances. This includes instances when there’s no duty to retreat, so you can “stand your ground” and legally use force.
The concept of “stand your ground” is a hot topic, and its practical application is usually more complex than media reports suggest. Here are the basics of “stand your ground,” but if you’re charged with a crime after defending yourself, your best option is to work with an attorney.
What is the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Defense?
Under North Carolina law, a person is justified in using force, but not deadly force, against another when they reasonably believe it’s necessary to defend themselves or another person against the imminent use of unlawful force.
Deadly force is justified, and there’s no duty to retreat if you:
- Have a right to be where you are, and
- Reasonably believe the force is needed to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm
You can also use deadly force when you’re lawfully occupying a home, motor vehicle, or workplace in a situation where:
- The other person is unlawfully and forcefully entering
- Already entered a home, motor vehicle, workplace
- If the person removed or was trying to remove, another against their will
- You had reason to believe an unlawful and forcible entry or act was occurring or had occurred
In addition to the “stand your ground” label, you may have also heard of the “castle doctrine.” They’re two names for the same thing. It’s based on the old saying, “a man’s house is his castle.” In North Carolina, these defenses not only cover your home but your workplace and vehicle.
If you meet these requirements, you’ll be immune from civil or criminal liability unless the other person:
- Is a bail bondsman or law enforcement officer lawfully performing their official duties
- They identified themselves according to applicable law, or
- You knew or reasonably should have known the person was a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman performing their official duties
Proving Self-Defense Gets Complicated
Claiming self-defense is based on the facts. Evidence is the basis of every criminal case, but whether a defense is effective can turn on one or two critical points.
The statutory language is vague because the legislature understood a self-defense situation could happen in many ways. Instead of forcing defendants to fit their cases into a long list of scenarios, broad language and the word “reasonable” are used.
As a result, the prosecution and defense try to convince a judge or jury what you thought and did was or wasn’t reasonable. They’ll decide whether the facts show what you did was proper, allowing for a not guilty verdict. Essentially, proving that you acted in self-defense under the “stand your ground” law requires telling your story and establishing a narrative that shows you didn’t commit a crime.
Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ Apply?
Were you reasonable when deciding:
- You were going to be the victim of immediate, unlawful force?
- Was deadly force necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another?
Why did you think so?
- Was the person just argumentative, or were you threatened?
- Were you shown a weapon?
- Why did you expect this person to be violent?
Whether or not the other person forcefully entered, had entered, or was trying to enter can trigger this defense. The fact a person is on your property doesn’t mean they’re illegally entering or attempting to enter your home. Shooting first and asking questions later could put you in prison.
‘Stand Your Ground’ is All or Nothing
Self-defense is an affirmative defense. You’re not denying you used force against another person or claiming it’s a case of mistaken identity. You’re stating the incident happened, but your actions were legal, so you’re not guilty of a crime.
You’re not disputing the case’s underlying facts, so an affirmative defense carries risks. You’ll be found guilty if the judge or jury finds you didn’t need to defend
yourself or the level of force you used wasn’t justified.
Consult a Defense Lawyer
Being accused of a crime is serious, and you need to take the matter just as seriously. If you believe you acted in self-defense, your best option to prove it is by working with an experienced defense attorney.
At Randall & Stump, we can help by reviewing your situation, explaining your options, and ensuring you get the chance to tell your side of the story. We will always tell you the truth and give you the respect you deserve.