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The Use of Force and Self-Protection

Soon, thousands of people across the country will become the involuntary subject of a dangerous encounter. Some victims are unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time while others are victims of pre-planned attacks such as home invasions, robberies, and kidnappings. Being able to protect yourself is sometimes the difference between life and death. However, many people do not know the amount of force that is permissible under the law. Understanding the appropriate amount of force in an emergency and the limitations that apply is essential to prevent criminal charges.

The New Jersey Code of Criminal Conduct provides guidance on permissible uses of force. If the amount of force used for self-protection was in accordance with the law, the force may be deemed justifiable. In determining whether a particular force is justified, it is necessary to examine the circumstances causing the need to use such force.

Types of Force

General use of force applies to any type of force that does not result in serious bodily injury or death. General force is permissible when an individual reasonably believes it is immediately necessary to protect against another individual’s use unlawful force towards them.

Deadly force is any type of force that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing serious bodily injury or death. The use of deadly force is only permitted when an individual reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent another individual from causing them serious bodily injury or death.


There are several limitations that apply to laws relating to self-protection, making it more difficult to quickly determine what force is permissible. Some limitations include the duty to retreat and limitation of force towards peace officers.

Generally, there is no duty to retreat when using force as a method of self-protection. However, several duties arise when using deadly force. If an individual can safely avoid the need to use deadly force under the following circumstances, they must do so.

  1. Duty to Retreat. If an individual is able to safely leave without being subject to serious bodily injury or death they must do so.
  2. Duty to Surrender Possession. If a demand is made for a certain piece of property by a person claiming a right to that property, you should surrender the property as deadly force may not be used against that person.
  3. Duty of Compliance. If a demand is made to refrain from taking certain actions and an individual is not obligated to take those actions, compliance is required.

Despite the limitations stated above, there is no duty to retreat in a dwelling that is being used for lodging or as a temporary place of lodging.

Another limitation on force covers encounters with peace officers. Provisions related to permissible force generally do not apply to law enforcement and other peace officers. In circumstances in which an officer attempts to make an arrest, force used to resist the arrest may not be deemed justifiable under the statute. An exception may apply in cases involving unlawful arrests. It is also important to note that peace officers are not under any obligation to retreat.

Contact Us for Help with Your Case

An evaluation of the facts and circumstances of each case is important to determine whether self- protection methods were justified. If you or someone you know used force to prevent a harmful act, call Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney at Law. Attorney Murphy is an experienced criminal law attorney handling cases in Rockland County, New Jersey and the surrounding cities.

Contact Our Firm

Phillip J. Murphy,
Attorney At Law
Free Consultations Calls Answered and returned 24/7 Phone: (845) 639-6600 Fax: (845) 639-6620

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10 Esquire Road, Suite 10
New City, New York 10956

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Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney At Law is located in New City, New York and serves clients in and around New York, New Jersey & Connecticut. Contact our experienced criminal defense law firm.
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