Self Defense in North Carolina


A person may not be guilty of a crime, even if the person committed the crime if there was a legal justification. One of the most common legal justifications under the law is self-defense.

Self-defense has been called a “defensive-force defense.” When this defense applies it justifies conduct that otherwise would be criminal.

As a general rule, a person may use force against another when the amount of force is reasonably necessary to protect himself or herself from the force being used against them.

What is Self Defense in North Carolina?

The use of force, including the use of deadly force, is recognized under North Carolina criminal laws. The use of force is allowed in NC if a person is defending against possible serious bodily harm or death. Self-defense is subject to the reasonableness standard. Meaning the force you use to defend yourself must be reasonable as compared to the force being put on you. A simple example is if someone slaps you in the face you most likely can not pull out a gun and shoot them. On the other hand, if someone is beating you with a baseball bat to a pulp you most likely can use a gun to defend yourself.

Another really important point under the self-defense laws is who is the aggressor. A general rule is you can NOT claim self-defense if you are the aggressor.

N.C.G.S. 14-51.2 creates a statutory right to use defensive force in one’s home, workplace, or motor vehicle. N.C.G.S. 14-51.3 creates a statutory right to use force in defense of one’s self or another person, which differs from the common law on defense of a person. Most notably, the statute includes an explicit stand-your-ground provision, stating a person does not have a duty to retreat “in any place he or she has the lawful right to be” when the person meets the requirement of the statute.

When can I use deadly force?

Deadly force may only be used if you reasonably believe that action is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm or in lawful defense of another. There is no duty to retreat unless you attempt to use deadly force against a non-deadly force.

What about protecting your property?

Reasonable non-deadly force may be used to protect property. If someone snatches your purse, you could spray them with pepper spray or use your hands and feet to fight them off, but you could not fire a gun at them unless the attacker attempts to cause great bodily harm.


  1. Can I use self-defense if I started the fight?
    1. NO. In North Carolina, the general rule is the aggressor can NOT claim self-defense. There are some exceptions to this rule but as a rule of thumb, you have to be the non-aggressor to use self-defense.
  1. Can I use self-defense to defend another person?
    1. YES. This is termed the defense of others. Generally, the same rules of self-defense apply to the defense of others.
  1. What is imperfect self-defense?
    1. When the force used to defend oneself went too far. As discussed above, a person can only use force that is necessary and reasonable to defend against the force being shown against them. If a person uses more force than necessary and reasonable to defend themselves it is called imperfect self-defense and certain criminal charges apply.


First, you should immediately contact a lawyer prior to speaking to anyone (including law enforcement). Second, only use the force necessary to protect yourself from the attacker. Do not use any more force than is necessary to stabilize and control the attacker. Last, do not be the aggressor, always use force as a last resort and only in means where there are no other options.