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What Are New York’s Self-Defense Laws?


Protecting yourself against violence is an obvious choice. After all, who in their right mind would stand idly by and accept a potentially life-threatening situation? In most cases, acts of self-defense happen on an almost instinctual level. Before we know it, we’re acting out of muscle memory and fighting to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

But could you face criminal charges for these acts of self-defense in New York? How does the Empire State approach situations like these? Under what circumstances are you legally allowed to defend yourself? Could you go to jail for harming someone in self-defense? These are all important questions. If you are facing criminal charges due to self-defense, it’s best to seek help from a qualified, experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. These legal professionals will fight for your rights and help you overcome any obstacles in court.

Key Elements of Self-Defense in New York 

If you’re going to argue self-defense in court, you need to be aware of several key elements of this concept:

  • Imminent Threat: In order to successfully argue that you were acting in self-defense, you need to show evidence of “imminent threat.” In other words, you must have acted in the face of clear and present danger. Threats made by someone may allow you to legally defend yourself, but offensive language is not enough to warrant these actions.
  • Reasonable Fear: You must also show that you were experiencing “reasonable fear” in the moments leading up to your act of self-defense. In other words, the court must come to the conclusion that a reasonable person would have felt the same level of fear as you did prior to the incident.
  • Proportional Force: If you act in self-defense, you must use a level of force that is proportional to the threat you face. If you face an assault that probably won’t result in your death, you cannot pull out a knife and stab the person. However, if they pull out a knife and slash at you, you can legally respond with deadly force.

Castle Doctrine

New York’s “castle doctrine” laws are also important in the context of self-defense. These laws apply to situations where you are being attacked in your own home. A key aspect of the castle doctrine in New York is the duty to retreat. If you are in your yard (outside of your house), you have a duty to retreat to safety before engaging the attacker.

If you and the attacker are both inside of your home, the court assumes that you have no clear way to escape to safety. Therefore, you have no duty to retreat, and you can potentially engage the attacker with lethal force. However, it’s worth mentioning that you can only use lethal force under certain circumstances. Again, concepts like imminent threat, reasonable fear, and proportional force all apply. Most experts agree that you should only use lethal force against an attacker in your home if you believe they intend to rob you, harm you, or commit arson.

Enlist the Help of a Qualified Attorney Today

Self-defense is the last resort, and you should always do your best to call 9-11 and get to safety before engaging an attacker. That being said, many people in New York are within their rights to defend themselves against a clear threat. If you have acted in self defense and you’re facing criminal charges, reach out to Phillip J. Murphy, Attorney at Law. New York criminal defense attorney Phillip J. Murphy has experience with a number of practice areas, and he can help you prove your innocence in court.





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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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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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