Does Castle Doctrine Allow You to Defend Your Property in New Jersey?

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Stand your ground laws are comparatively recent legal creations that have been in the news since their inception. Does New Jersey have a stand your ground law? If not, how and when does New Jersey allow you to use force in self-defense? This article will explain self-defense in the context of defense of property in New Jersey, which can be a very complex topic. When you are charged with a crime, that complexity seems overwhelming. Don’t fight a criminal charge alone, contact an experienced Mercer County criminal defense lawyer who knows how to get you the best possible outcome.

New Jersey’s Self-Defense Doctrine: Castle Doctrine

New Jersey does not have a stand your ground law. Instead, New Jersey has the castle doctrine, a principle that acknowledges that you should feel safe at home.

Typically New Jersey has a duty to retreat in public areas. Duty to retreat prioritizes protecting life by discouraging violence escalation. When they are targeted in an attack, people have a duty to try to remove themselves from the situation or calm the situation down, rather than add fuel to the flames, if that can be done safely.

The castle doctrine is an exception to the duty to retreat. If someone is threatening your life and well-being inside your home, you have a right to use force to stop the other person from threatening you or your property.

However, you are not allowed to use the castle doctrine in your defense if you were the initial aggressor. If in the conflict, you are the initial aggressor, then you still have a duty to retreat. Finally, if in your home you can retreat with complete safety, then you have a duty to retreat.

But in a case where you didn’t start the violence and you don’t have a method of escaping with complete safety, then you will be allowed to use force in self-defense. The castle doctrine, then, is a potential self-defense alibi for those charged with assault or causing the death of someone in their home.

State vs Garland: When You Have a Duty to Retreat at Home

Although states vary in their application of self-defense laws, for the most part, states either choose castle doctrine with the duty to retreat or stand your ground. Some states, like Tennessee, take elements of both.

New Jersey tends to rely heavily on the duty to retreat, but there are cases where New Jersey courts have held that even inside the home, you may have a duty to retreat. This arises from the case of State v. Gartland, 694 A. 2d 564 (1997), where a woman suffered domestic abuse by someone who cohabitated with her. There, the court held that when you live or cohabitate with another person, you do have a duty to retreat. In Gartland, the woman was convicted of reckless manslaughter and died while her appeal was pending.

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