Jury Instructions on Self Defense

The North Carolina Court of Appeals, in the December 31, 2020 published opinion North Carolina v. Charles Stephens SELF DEFENSE IN NORTH CAROLINA(State v. Stephens No. COA19-425), sets forth what is required for a Jury Instruction on Self Defense.

In determining what evidence is sufficient, such that the Defendant is entitled to a jury instruction on a mitigating factor or a defense, the Court must consider the evidence presented at trial in the light most favorable to the defendant.

The trial court has the duty to instruct the Finder of Fact on all features deemed substantial in a case.

Defenses raised in the presentation of evidence are deemed substantial features of the case.

Substantial evidence is therefore defined as relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as enough or adequate to support a conclusion.

Whether or not the evidence is sufficient to require an instruction on self-defense is a question of law.

What are Reasonable Grounds?  

As such, the appellate review of the decision not to give a jury instruction involving self-defense is De Novo.

Use of Force

In North Carolina, you have a right to exercise such force as you deem necessary to defend yourself from death or great bodily harm.

There are limitations on the exercise of that right, as well as to the nature, extent, and type of force used in defending yourself.

North Carolina recognizes the legal concepts of “perfect self-defense” and “imperfect self-defense.”

What is Reasonable? 

The law of self-defense in North Carolina demands reasonableness and requires consideration of the facts and circumstances specific to the individual allegation of criminal wrongdoing.

Criminal defense lawyers may refer to such matters as “case-specific.”

One would be remiss in failing to note self-defense cases, even those involving a fatality, do not always get charged or go to trial – Bill Powers, Defense Lawyer

The State of North Carolina, through the Office of the District Attorney (the prosecutor), ordinarily carefully analyzes the fact-pattern leading up to the use of force.

What does Indicted mean? 

The right to act in self-defense involves, at least in part, the legal analysis of necessity and what is reasonable.

Each criminal charge or allegation, like each person accused of a crime, is different and to some extent, unique.

Facts matter; so does reasonableness in exercising deadly force.  

Self-defense cases tend to be messy, involving intricate fact-patterns and considerable disagreement about what took place on-scene and who acted as the aggressor – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Lawyer Charlotte NC

The State is held to the legal burden of Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The prosecutor, in deciding whether or not to even charge the accused, takes into consideration what a jury might consider “reasonable” given the then-existing facts and circumstances of the dispute.

In some instances the person killed as a result of the altercation may in fact be the aggressor.

The legal standard of self-defense therefore involves some aspect of community norms, states of mind, and what is or is not reasonable given what took place.

What is an Appropriate Amount of Force? 

A person may use the amount of force that is deemed necessary at the time, given the unique circumstances of the dispute and what led up to the use of potentially deadly force.

Both the real and apparent necessity to use force may be lawfully appropriate to save oneself from either death or great bodily harm.

That exercise of force must be predicated on reasonable grounds and fear of great bodily harm or death.

The Finder of Fact, ordinarily a jury in Superior Court, determines the reasonableness of that belief.

Self-defense cases can be confusing.  We use terms like ‘belief in the mind of a person of ordinary firmness,’ ‘reasonable belief,’ and ‘apparent need’ in determining guilt or innocence – Bill Powers, Criminal Defense Attorney

Similarly, unless deemed as a matter of law (gun, knife et al) a deadly weapon, it is ordinarily up to the Finder of Fact to determine whether an object is a deadly weapon as it may be used.

Burdens of Proof in North Carolina 

The jury (Finder of Fact) considers the circumstances and facts at hand as they appear to the person accused of the crime at the time.

** North Carolina amended its Constitution to allow for Waiver of Jury Trial, thus allowing in Superior Court the Judge to become the Finder of Fact and thus decide both factual and legal disputes in court.  For misdemeanor charges in District Court, the judges also proceed in such dual capacity.

The defense of self-defense, and the right to use deadly force, is subject to limitations.

If a person voluntarily enters into a fight, the defense may be precluded unless he or she first abandons the fight, withdrawals, and provides notice to his or her adversary that he or she has withdrawn.

Perfect Self Defense

The North Carolina criminal laws recognize both perfect self-defense and imperfect self-defense.

Self Defense and Defense of Others are deemed “affirmative defenses” in North Carolina.

Perfect self-defense is a legal term of art used by defense lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.  If you have questions about the use of force, consult with a defense attorney – Bill Powers, Charlotte Lawyer

Perfect self-defense is an appropriate legal remedy for:

  • Discharging weapons into an occupied property criminal charges; and,
  • Felony assault charges in North Carolina.

There are four essential elements to “perfect self-defense.”

Criminal Defense Lawyers Near Me – NC Criminal Defense Powers Law Firm PA

“Near me” is a relative term nowadays.

Who is the best criminal defense lawyer? 

If you’ve Googled “Criminal Lawyers Near Me,” hoping to find a lawyer, what pops up as an answer may involve what cell tower is near you.

Our law firm, while based in Charlotte, handles a wide range of legal matters.  We will travel, as may be appropriate, to defend serious felony allegations involving use-of-force issues – Bill Powers, NC Criminal Defense Attorney 

Selection of an attorney, we think, should include consideration of factors other than just “who is near me.”

That’s particularly true for DWI charges in NC, felony allegations, and instances where the accused may in fact have been the victim of an assault.

We encourage prospective clients to review our background experience, legal accolades, certifications, and recognitions.




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