Fighting Back – Self Defense in North Carolina


With so much in the news in the past few years about rioting, killings, school shootings, and bullies, it may have crossed your mind to begin arming yourself more than previously, and hopefully along with your new ammunition is the law with it.

It’s a common understanding that self-defense is a justification for harm done, but what exactly will qualify? Just because you were acting in self-defense, does not mean that you will not be arrested and put before a jury to decide your defense credibility. In North Carolina, the jury determines the reasonableness of the defendant’s apprehension from the circumstances as they appeared to him or her. If a person of ordinary firmness would have regarded the necessity as real, the defendant is entitled to acquittal (a “not guilty”). State v. Gladden, 279 N.C. 566 (1971). When the assault on the defendant is a nondeadly assault, then the most the defendant can do is to exchange blow for blow.

In order to excuse a killing altogether, the defendant must 1. Believe deadly force was necessary to save himself from death or great bodily harm; 2. The belief was reasonable under the circumstances, as measured by a reasonable person standard; 3. The defendant was not the aggressor in bringing on the affray (did not enter willingly or aggressively into the fight without provocation); and 4. The defendant did not use excessive force (i.e., more force than necessary to protect himself).

In North Carolina, when a person is confronted with a nonfelonious assault, he must retreat if it is possible to do so without harm to himself before he can resort to the use of deadly force. State v. Canaday, 191 N.C. App. 680 (2008). It is not always appropriate to act and if it is possible to not act, then it is likely what is expected of you under the reasonable person standard.

There are also imperfect defenses that may be raised when the force used by a defendant is excessive or the defendant began as an aggressor in the affray.  If you are faced with charges of assault, whether nondeadly or deadly, you will want to discuss any possible defenses you have with an attorney to build your best case.