Let’s explore New Jersey Self Protection Law. This is the second in a series of blogs related to self-defense. My first installment related to self-defense against an intruder on your property. This installment is self-defense in self-protection in other locations. Remember the standards applied are different depending upon the circumstances you find yourself in. Defending yourself against an intruder in your home is different from self-protection at another location!
The use of force toward another person is justifiable when the actor reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person.
In other words, self-defense is the right of a person to defend against any unlawful force. Self-defense is also the right of a person to defend against seriously threatened unlawful force that is actually pending or reasonably anticipated. When a person is in imminent danger of bodily harm, the person has the right to use force or even deadly force when that force is necessary to prevent the use against him of unlawful force. The force used must not be significantly greater than and must be proportionate to the unlawful force threatened or used against the other person.
This is a different standard than my previous blog that dealt with self-defense against an intruder. In defending against an intruder the force does not have to be proportionate whereas in other situations it does. This is an important distinction.
The term unlawful force is defined as force used against a person without their consent in such a way that would constitute a civil wrong or criminal offense.
If the force used in defending against this unlawful force is not immediately necessary or was not in proportion to the force used by the other person then the law will not consider your actions to be legitimate self-defense. This is because there are different levels of force that a person may use to prevent unlawful harm. You can only use the amount or degree of force that you reasonably believe is necessary to protect yourself against harm. If you are attempting to protect yourself against exposure to death or the substantial danger of serious bodily harm you may resort to the use of deadly force. Otherwise, you may only resort to non-deadly force.
Obviously, a situation where self-defense is necessary occurs quickly and without warning. A life or death decision has to be made instantaneously and the consequences of your decision can be long-lasting.
New Jersey Self Protection Law – DEADLY FORCE
Under New Jersey Self Protection Law, the use of deadly force may be justified only to defend against force or the threat of force of nearly equal severity and is not justified unless you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to protect yourself against death or serious bodily injury. For example, if one were to purposely fire a firearm in the direction of another person that would be an example of deadly force. A mere threat with a firearm, however, intended only to make the other person believe that you will use the firearm if necessary is not an example of deadly force.
One cannot respond with deadly force to a threat or even an actual minor attack. For example, a slap or an imminent threat of being pushed in a crowd would not ordinarily justify the use of deadly force to defend against such unlawful conduct.
Again, as was the case with defense against an intruder the term “reasonable belief” is being used frequently.
A reasonable belief is one which would be held by a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence situated as you are. Self-defense exonerates a person who uses force in the reasonable belief that such action was necessary to prevent his death or serious injury even though his belief was later proven mistaken. Accordingly, the law requires only a reasonable, not necessarily a correct judgment.
Even if it is established that the use of deadly force was reasonable, there are limitations on the use of deadly force. If you provoked or incited the use of force against yourself in the same encounter, the defense of self-defense is not available. Also, if you are deemed to have been able to avoid the necessity of using deadly force by retreating, provided that you could retreat with complete safety then the defense is not available.
Again, this duty to retreat, if it can be done with complete safety, is different from the standard when dealing with an intruder in your home. There is no duty to retreat in your home where there may be in other situations.
New Jersey Self Protection Law- NON-DEADLY FORCE
New Jersey Self Protection Law standards for the use of non-deadly force are not as complicated as those for deadly force.
A person may use non-deadly force in his own defense as long as it is justified. A person may use non-deadly force if the following conditions exist:
- The person reasonable believes he must use force.
- The person reasonably believes that the use of force was immediately necessary; and
- The person reasonably believes he is using force to defend against unlawful force; and
- The person reasonably believes that the level of the intensity of the force he is using is proportionate to the unlawful force his is using to defend himself.
The definition of reasonable belief is the same as the one used for deadly force.
**Source: New Jersey Model Criminal Jury Charge 2C: 3-4)**