North Carolina law does not require retreat before use of self-defense. "Perfect" self-defense is a defense against criminal charges; "imperfect" may be used as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
The Elements of Self-Defense
Perfect self-defense requires all four of the following elements:
When is self-defense not available as a defense?
North Carolina law provides that self-defense justification is not available in two situations:
1. To someone attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing a felony.
2. Self-defense is also unavailable to someone who initially provokes the use of force against himself, provided, that he may if either the force used by the provoked is so serious that the person using defensive force reasonably believes he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, has no means to retreat, and the use of force was the only way to escape the danger OR the person who used defensive force withdraws in good faith from the person provoked and indicates clearly that he desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the person provoked continued or resumed the use of force.
Our courts have also ruled that an "accidental" death resulting from the use of deadly force is not entitled to self-defense. In at least one case, the defendant testified that he intended to fire a warning shot in response to aggression, and did not intend to hit or kill his assailant. The court ruled that a self-defense instruction was not available in that situation, because the use of deadly force in self-defense must be intentional. The courts have backed away from the ruling, holding somewhat reasonably that this intent does not have to be deadly and that use of deadly force to injure qualifies for self-defense.
Self-defense claims can be complicated and are very fact specific. The smallest detail can make all the difference. As in any other case, even if a person feels strongly that they acted in self-defense, we strongly suggest consulting an attorney prior to waiving the constitutional right to remain silent. The slightest mistatement can potentially be used to deny the availability of a very strong defense!
Our Wake County criminal defense lawyers have experience asserting self-defense in response to assault charges, and are available for a free consultation. Give us a call or use our contact form in the sidebar to schedule a teleconference or arrange an in-person meeting.