What is Self Defense?

1What is Self Defense?

When you are faced with danger, you want to defend yourself. When you end up seriously hurting or killing the other person as a result, you might be charged with a crime. You may defend the charges with a claim of self-defense. Self-defense is an affirmative defense to a crime. In other words, you do not dispute that the situation occurred, but it happened because you were defending yourself or your property. However, you cannot claim self-defense in every situation. The law provides for the use of force under specific circumstances.


When Can You Use Force?

North Carolina defines when a person can use force under General Statute 14.51.3. The law allows you to be exempt from criminal and civil liability in some circumstances. The law specifically says:

“A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force.” It is important to note that this provision covers the use of force, but not deadly force.

A person can use deadly force, and is not required to retreat, when he or she “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.” This means that you must truly believe that you or someone else could be seriously hurt or killed if you do not do something to fight back.


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


Justified Force

You can justify your use of force in many types of circumstances. However, the law prohibits you from using force against a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who is acting in the official duties of their job. You must have also reasonably known that the person was an officer and identified himself or herself as such. For example, if you see the police officer’s vehicle with flashing lights and the officer tells you to stop, you cannot later claim that you hurt the officer because you were defending yourself.



Use of Force to Protect Yourself

The law protects you from liability in cases where you used force to defend yourself or your property. It may apply to you when you are in your home, your vehicle, or your place of business. You may use force, sometimes deadly force, in cases where the person was “unlawfully and forcefully” entering your home, vehicle, or workplace or was already inside. You may also use force when someone is trying to remove someone against their will.  You may not use force in cases where you were committing a criminal act, or when the person is trying to remove a child over whom they have guardianship or legal custody. You may not use force, for instance, when someone tried to break into your home but did not enter and left or was in the process of leaving.


Self-defense can be a valid defense, but only when you use it in accordance with the law. If you are charged with a crime, you will want to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. To learn more, contact us at Arnold & Smith, PLLC at (704) 370-2828 for a consultation.

If you are charged with a serious crime it is best to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Arnold & Smith, PLLC, we have a team of attorneys and support staff ready to assist you with your defense and help you protect your rights. Please contact us today to get a phone, video or in-person consultation by calling at (704) 370-2828 to speak with our detail-oriented and well-versed lawyers with offices in Charlotte, Lake Norman, and Monroe, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today 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.



G.S. 14-51.3 (ncleg.net)

deadly force | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)


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