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What’s Considered Self-Defense in North Carolina?

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Criminal Defense on Monday, November 22, 2021

Man disarming another man holding a knife

Self-defense in North Carolina refers to protecting yourself, others, or your property through the use of force. Depending on the facts, acting in self-defense can help you avoid criminal charges. But the facts must back up your claim.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense. Therefore, you’re not claiming the incident didn’t happen, or you have an alibi so that you couldn’t be the one involved. You’re admitting to the basic facts that you took specific actions, but you were justified in taking them, so you didn’t commit a crime.

When You Can Legally Use Force

There are three North Carolina statutes covering self-defense. North Carolina General Statute 14.51.3 states:

  • You’re justified in using force (but not deadly force) when you reasonably believe your acts are needed to defend yourself or another against the other person’s imminent use of unlawful force
  • The use of deadly force is justified, and you have no duty to retreat, anywhere you have the right to be if you reasonably believe violence is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another. The deadly force also justified under the circumstances stated in North Carolina General Statute 14-51.2 (see below)
  • If you properly defend yourself, you’re immune from civil or criminal liability unless the other person is a bail bondsman or law enforcement officer performing their duties and who identified themselves to you, or you reasonably should’ve known who they are

There are many issues involved in self-defense, including the acts of both parties, where you were, what you were thinking, and whether your beliefs were reasonable.

Restrictions on Using Deadly Force

North Carolina General Statute 14-51.2 states when deadly force is and is not justified as self-defense. Suppose you’re a lawful occupant of a home, motor vehicle, or workplace. In that case, it’s presumed you have a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm when using possibly lethal defensive force if:

  • The other person was unlawfully and forcefully entering a home, motor vehicle, or workplace or had already done so, had been removed, or was trying to remove another against their will
  • You knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred
    Self-defense is not a valid defense when:
  • The person you tried to remove is a child, grandchild, or is otherwise legally in custody or under the guardianship of the person against whom you used force
  • You were engaged in a criminal offense involving the use or threat of physical force, or you were using the home, motor vehicle, or workplace to advance your crime, or you were trying to escape
  • The other person is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who entered or attempted to enter a home, motor vehicle, or workplace while performing their duties, and the person identified themselves, or you reasonably should have known who they were
  • The other person stopped their efforts to unlawfully and forcefully enter the home, motor vehicle, or workplace and left

A self-defense claim can only be used by someone who, in good faith, needs to protect themselves or others.

Self-Defense is Limited If You Provoke an Attack

North Carolina General Statutes 14-51.4 additionally states that self-defense isn’t available if you were trying to commit or were committing a felony, escaping afterward, or you provoked the use of force against you.

If you initiated the attack or started a fight, there are exceptions to this self-defense exception:

  • The force used by the other person is so serious that you reasonably believed you were in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, you had no reasonable means to retreat, and your use of force was the only way to escape
  • You withdrew from physical contact with the other person and clearly showed you wanted to withdraw and stop using force, but the other person continued or resumed their use of force.
  • Get Help If You’re Arrested for Defending Yourself

    “Self-defense” isn’t a magic phrase to make criminal charges go away, and as you can see, this defense isn’t available in all situations.

    The facts and evidence, along with North Carolina law, need to back up your self-defense claim. If not, you could be convicted of a violent crime like assault, manslaughter, or homicide.

    If you’re arrested or charged with a crime but feel as though you acted in self-defense, call the Charlotte defense attorneys at Randall & Stump. We’ll review what happened, explain your options, and help build your defense.

    Call (980) 237-4579 or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.