Self-Defense in North Carolina – Stand Your Ground

Every state has different laws when it comes to when and how you can protect yourself and your family. It is important to know and understand the laws of your state in the event that you are provoked, assaulted or attacked. However, if you have questions, or have been charged with a crime you committed while acting in self-defense, it is important to consult a defense attorney who can examine the nuances of your situation and provide expert guidance.

What is North Carolina's Self-Defense Law?

Prior to December 1, 2011, North Carolina citizens had a legal duty to retreat from an attacker before using deadly force to defend themselves. If retreat was not possible, citizens could only use an equal amount of force as the attacker. For example, a citizen would generally not be able to use deadly force against someone who punched them. The law generally followed a “blow for a blow” way of handling an attacker. This all changed, however, when North Carolina passed the “stand your ground” law.

When Use of Deadly Force May Be Justifiable

This is not to say that deadly force is acceptable in all self-defense scenarios, but the law generally allows deadly force when:

  • You reasonably believe that the attacker is about to cause serious bodily harm or imminent death to you or others
  • You are in your home, place of work or vehicle and fearing for your life. This is referred to as the “Castle Doctrine.” In other words, your home, place of work and vehicle are viewed as your “castle” and you have the legal right to defend both yourself and others inside your “castle” when there is an intruder who poses an immediate threat.
When Use of Deadly Force May Not Be Justifiable

There are several exceptions to the “stand your ground” law that are important to be aware of. You cannot use deadly force against:

  • Police officers or members of law enforcement who have identified themselves to you as such
  • Bail bondsman
  • Anyone who is legally allowed to be where you are, i.e., your landlord
  • An attacker who is retreating or stopped attacking

There are two other scenarios to be aware of when acting in self-defense:

  • You cannot use deadly force when you are attempting to commit, committing or escaping after committing a felony.
  • You were the initial aggressor. There are two exceptions to note here. If you were the initial aggressor, you can act in self-defense if:
    • The return force used by the person you provoked is so severe that you believe you are in imminent danger of death or serious injury.
    • You retreat or withdraw from physical contact of the person you provoked but they continue the use of force.
Criticism of Stand Your Ground Laws

Following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, political discussions surrounding the stand your ground laws began to circulate. This murder trial outcome was believed to be heavily attributed to Florida’s stand your ground law and raised concerns for many about certain self-defense laws in North Carolina. The stand your ground laws were said to be too generous in the allowance of deadly force. A House Bill was introduced in 2013 and again in 2017 in attempt to repeal and replace the stand your ground law. Neither of these bills have been passed and stand your ground law remains in place today. However, the laws are ever changing, and it is important to refer to North Carolina legislation for the most up to date information regarding self-defense laws.

North Carolina General Statutes §14-51.2 & §14-51.3 are available via for full review of the “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Can You Be Charged With a Crime in an Act of Self-Defense?

Yes, you can be charged with a crime, such as assault, manslaughter or murder, if you use force against another, even if they are an attacker. However, if you were acting in self-defense, this is an affirmative defense that can be raised once charges are brought. In other words, you acknowledge that you inflicted harm on another person, but this harm was justified while protecting yourself or others from that person.

This, however, is not a straightforward legal issue and should be dealt with by an experienced defense attorney. If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime in which North Carolina’s self-defense laws may apply, it is important to have the guidance of an experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney ready to help you through it. The defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are standing by to help guide you through this overwhelming time and fight to defend your rights. Contact us today for a consultation.