The Art of Self-Defense

Unleashing the Power of the Defense of Justification

The concept of self-defense holds significant importance within the legal framework of New York. It grants individuals the right to protect themselves and others from acts of violence, including assaults and other heinous crimes. As outlined in Article 35 of the New York Penal Law, this defense defines the circumstances in which physical force, and in extreme cases, deadly force can be utilized to effect an arrest, prevent a crime, or shield oneself or another individual from harm.


Defense vs. Affirmative Defense

It is essential to distinguish between self-defense, referred to as the defense of justification within the New York Penal Law, and an affirmative defense. Unlike an affirmative defense, self-defense is a defense. It is noteworthy that, in New York, once a defense is raised, the burden lies on the prosecutor to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Conversely, for affirmative defenses, the accused bears the burden of proof. When it comes to self-defense or justification, the prosecutor shoulders the responsibility of disproving the defense.

The Requirement of Reasonableness

Throughout Article 35 of the New York Penal Law, the term “reasonably” is repeatedly emphasized. In most cases, the person invoking self-defense must hold a “reasonable” belief in both the necessity of the defense and the perpetrator’s engagement in harmful activities that warrant self-defense. Failure to meet the standard of reasonableness can lead to unfavorable outcomes. Courts evaluate the reasonableness of beliefs objectively and subjectively, considering the individual’s perspective.

Defending Against Physical Force

Under Penal Law ยง35.15, an individual in New York is justified in using physical force when they reasonably believe it is necessary to defend themselves or another person from an imminent or ongoing illegal use of force. Exceptions to this principle include instances of “combat by agreement,” situations where the person seeking to employ defense acted as the initial aggressor, or cases where the attack was provoked. It is crucial to note that reasonableness plays a pivotal role in successfully employing the defense of justification. Both the belief in the use of force and the belief in the necessity of physical force to counter the attack must be reasonable given the circumstances.

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However, the use of deadly physical force, capable of causing severe injury or death, is only permitted if an individual reasonably believes such force is being used or is about to be used against themselves, another person, or a third party. Even in such situations, the law imposes a duty to retreat if complete safety can be achieved before resorting to deadly physical force.

Exceptions to the duty to retreat exist within one’s home, provided the individual is not the initial aggressor and reasonably believes that the attacker intends to commit or is committing forcible rape, robbery, kidnapping, or forcible criminal sexual acts. However, it is important to note that the application of different rules applies to police officers and is not covered here.

Using Physical Force to Defend Premises

In scenarios where damage to property, such as criminal mischief, is involved, a person has the right to employ physical force (excluding deadly physical force) if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent the commission of a crime. This applies regardless of whether the person using the physical force is the owner or in control of the premises. However, the use of deadly physical force in defense of premises is permissible only when an individual reasonably believes it is necessary to halt or impede an arson or attempted arson.

Furthermore, a person in control or possession of premises has the authority to employ physical force (excluding deadly physical force) if it is reasonably believed to be necessary to stop or prevent a criminal trespass. In the case of an occupied building or dwelling under their control or possession, an individual can use deadly physical force if it is reasonably believed to be necessary to terminate what is reasonably believed to be a burglary or attempted burglary.

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Using Physical Force to Prevent Theft or Property Damage

When it comes to preventing theft or the commission of criminal mischief, a person can use physical force (excluding deadly physical force) if they reasonably believe it is necessary. This allows individuals to take action against perpetrators attempting to commit unlawful acts.

The Use of Physical Force in Civilian Arrests

Under New York Law, civilians have the authority to effect a citizen’s arrest for crimes committed in their presence. It is permissible for civilians to use physical force (excluding deadly physical force) if they reasonably believe the force is necessary to make the arrest or prevent the escape from custody of a person whom they reasonably believe has committed a crime or offense. However, it is crucial to emphasize that when employing physical force during an arrest, it is not enough to reasonably believe the person committed a crime; accuracy is paramount. A mistaken belief in the commission of a crime would render the defense of justification invalid, potentially resulting in prosecution.

In general, the use of deadly physical force in civilian arrests is not permitted unless an individual reasonably believes such force is necessary to make an arrest for crimes like robbery, forcible sexual criminal acts, forcible rape, manslaughter in the first degree, or murder. Additionally, the use of deadly physical force may be justified if, while utilizing non-deadly physical force to effect an arrest for a non-violent offense, the perpetrator attempts to use deadly physical force against the civilian or another individual.

In Conclusion – The Complexity of Self-Defense/Justification

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Self-defense, also known as the defense of justification, is an intricate area of law that carries severe consequences if misunderstood or misapplied. This brief summary only scratches the surface of New York Law. We strongly recommend reading Article 35 of the New York State Penal Law in its entirety to gain a comprehensive understanding.

If you or someone you know has utilized self-defense in New York and is now facing a criminal investigation or charge, it is vital to consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer who specializes in self-defense cases.

For a free, friendly, and confidential consultation, CONTACT A LAWYER EXPERIENCED IN SELF DEFENSE CASES TODAY! CALL 877-377-8666.