North Carolina Appeals Court Rules on the Use of Defensive Force in the Home

Charlotte Criminal Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “What are the long term effects of being convicted of a crime?”


In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly updated the law governing the use of defensive force in the home. Since then, there has been a need for clarification of the newly enacted statute and cases in which the court interprets the statute and indicates how it should be applied in future situations. In State v. Kuhns, the North Carolina Court the Appeals clarifies part of the new statute, G.S. 14-51.2.


Handgun-Charlotte-Monroe-Mooresville-Criminal-Defense-Lawyer-300x189In State v. Kuhns, Donald Kuhns (“Kuhns”) killed his neighbor, Johnny Dockery, by shooting him after having various conflicts and issues throughout the night. Both parties had been drinking the night of the shooting. After fighting with his girlfriend, Dockery could be found shouting in the direction of Kuhns home. A police officer arrived on the scene and told Dockery to go home. Dockery returned after an hour and continued to cause a scene outside of Kuhns’s home. Again, police instructed Dockery to go home. A third time Dockery showed up to Kuhns’s house. Kuhns had a gun and requested Dockery leave his property, but he did not. Kuhns shot Dockery after he attempted to attack Kuhns.


At trial, Kuhns was not allowed to use the habitation defense (defensive force) because he was protecting himself from injury, not protecting his home. The Court of Appeals stated that the “curtilage” of a home is protected by the statute. Dockery was in the curtilage of Kuhns’s home. The Court of Appeals found that it was not correct to not inform the jury of the defense of habitation.


G.S. 14-51.2 addresses the use of defensive force in the home, workplace, or with motor vehicles. Per the statute, the use of deadly force, or force that would cause serious bodily harm, can only be used in situations in which the individual holds a “reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to himself or another.” Additionally, in order to justify the use of deadly force, there are two additional conditions:


  • The person who has the defensive force used against them must have been in the process of “unlawfully or forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered,” another individual’s home, workplace, or motor vehicle. Defensive force can also be used in situations in which the person who is receiving the defensive force is attempting to forcibly remove another person against his or her will; and
  • The use of defensive force was only used because there was a reason to “believe that unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.”


As you can see, there are still many issues to work out regarding the statute change, even if it happened over seven years ago. The criminal attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are here to help you. We know that statutes and laws change. As such, we pride ourselves on thoroughly researching an issue to provide the best defense possible. Not only do we want to provide the best defense possible, but also to explain the case to you and what your options might be. Contact us today to find out how we can help you with criminal charges you might be facing in North Carolina. If you find yourself facing criminal charges and need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828 or find additional resources here.








The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.





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