In 2011, the General Assembly revised the self defense law in North Carolina with two new statutes. Together, they express that you are allowed to use force in defense of yourself and others, your home, your workplace, and your vehicle. You therefore have immunity from any criminal liability in such cases. However, there have been no appellate cases in North Carolina since that time that address exactly what this means for criminal cases. Thus, the attorneys at the Remington & Dixon Law Firm are prepared to postulate on the potential implications as they may relate to your criminal case in which self defense is a factor.
Naturally, these revisions do indicate that you can use the immunity provision of North Carolina that allows you to use self defense as a defense in a criminal trial to avoid conviction. However, there is every possibility that this provision can do even more than this. For example, you may be able to prevent the need for a trial at all by obtaining a court determination that you were well within your rights in using force in the act of self defense.
Some states protect those acting in self defense from being criminally prosecuted at all. North Carolina specifies that you are protected from criminal liability, which is not quite the same. Other states have also used their interpretations of such laws as a reason to ensure that defendants who can claim self defense have a right to a pretrial hearing to address the possibility of immunity from criminal prosecution.
Even so, the requirements for this kind of hearing are different depending on the court. Generally, the statutes that relate to self defense immunity allow for the accused to exercise a right to a pretrial hearing that may determine whether or not they truly are eligible for this immunity. So, what is the standard of proof at such a pretrial hearing?
In the majority of cases, the burden of proof to ascertain that one is immune from prosecution due to self defense falls on the defendant. This means that you must establish through evidence that you were truly acting in self defense.
How Does This Pretrial Hearing Work?
Based on states which place the burden of proof of immunity on the defendant, an evidentiary hearing is held by the trial court to resolve and disputes regarding the facts of the case. Very recently, there was a Supreme Court ruling in South Carolina which determined that the judge can decide whether or not you have such immunity without the necessity of an evidentiary hearing. This is allowed if there is undisputed evidence, which may be in the form of statements from witnesses, that indicate that the defendant will be unable to meet that burden of proof.
Then, you have states like Kansas and Kentucky where the State has to establish that the defendant was not acting lawfully in their use of force for self defense in criminal cases. Yet, the two states disagree in some areas. Kansas requires an evidentiary hearing with strict rules regarding evidence. Kentucky, however, does not require such a hearing. Rather, the State must provide other evidence to prove their position.
One thing that remains consistent is that every state requires the charges to be dismissed if the defendant is able to prove that they were, in fact, using legal force for self defense according to that state’s laws and guidelines. Until a trial occurs, the trial court cannot reserve ruling.
What If You Don’t Prevail at a Pretrial Hearing?
If you are unsuccessful in proving immunity at a pretrial hearing, you are still allowed to use self defense to defend your actions in a criminal trial. As long as you adhere to the applicable standards of proof, given the specifics of your criminal case, you can hold to your claim that you acted lawfully within the guidelines of self defense rulings in North Carolina. Having said that, the burden of proof will be on the State of North Carolina to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that you acted in an unlawful or criminal manner, and that your actions do not fall under the category of legally acceptable behavior due to self defense.
There are still a lot of questions regarding self defense immunity provisions in North Carolina. However, you can still make sure that you take the right the steps to prove your case by consulting The Remington & Dixon Law Firm about the details of your case. Our skilled NC criminal defense attorneys are happy to offer the benefit of our experience and expertise to help you navigate the complexities of criminal defense laws in North Carolina.
Brandon double-majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He earned his Juris Doctor from Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. Throughout his career, Brandon has received numerous awards and recognition from his peers and agencies that rate attorneys. A few of these awards are from The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyer in 2014, The National Trial Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40 in 2014, Nation’s Top One Percent: National Association of Distinguished Counsel in 2015, Super Lawyers: Rising Stars in 2018 and 2019, and North Carolina Business Magazine: Legal Elite in 2019, among others.