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“Stand your ground” and “Castle Doctrine” in New Jersey

| Jun 4, 2021 | Criminal charges

If a defendant is charged with a violent crime that involves any element of self-defense, New Jersey statutes protect one’s rights to defend themselves when safety is in imminent and illegal danger. A defense that uses the concepts of “Stand your ground” and “Castle Doctrine” can dramatically affect the outcome of cases from assault to homicide.

The New Jersey laws dealing with the use of force for self-protection or self-defense, N.J.S.A. § 2C:3-4, say: “Use of force justifiable for protection of the person.” The statute goes on to clarify, “…when the actor [defendant] reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself…”  Words like “justifiable” and “reasonably” are subjective and for the courts to decide.

Therefore, lawmakers went on to give a guideline to what constitutes use of force:

·       “Castle Doctrine”: The defendant was in their residence [castle] at the time of the incident.

·       Altercation/intrusion: Must be “sudden and unexpected” attack/intrusion.

·       Immediate action: The defendant needed to take immediate self-defense actions against the intruder/attacker.

·       Threat: The statute states that the defendant, “…reasonably believed that the intruder would inflict personal injury upon the actor [defendant] or others in the dwelling.”

·       Demand to stop/leave and refusal: The defendant must have, “demanded that the intruder disarm, surrender or withdraw, and the intruder refused to do so.”

“Stand your ground” versus “Castle Doctrine”

“Stand your ground” laws apply to attacks that take place in public. Under these circumstances, “Duty to retreat” comes into play. If the person being threatened can safely retreat or escape the attack without using force, they legally must. If it is not possible to escape the threat, then they have the legal right to stand their ground, in other words, use force when immediately necessary.

In contrast, under the “Castle Doctrine” in New Jersey, a person in their own home may use force to protect themselves and their family from an intrusion or attack.  A person in their home facing a threat to their safety is “not obliged to retreat from his dwelling.” Therefore, “Duty to retreat” does not apply with the “Castle Doctrine” as it does with “Stand your ground.”

It’s challenging to determine if a defendant’s use of force was justified or not. If one finds themselves with such a case, then an attorney who has experience with violet crimes can often build a solid defense by correctly applying New Jersey’s legal concepts of “Stand your ground” and “Castle Doctrine.”