New York Penal Law § 35.15 details the circumstances in which using force is justified. In defending one’s self or a third person, the statute permits a person to use physical force only to the extent he or she reasonably believes necessary to defend one’s self or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person.
However, force cannot be used if the person defending was the initial aggressor. If someone started a fight, he or she is not justified in using further force when the other person fights back. Additionally, force can only be used to the extent necessary. Once the threat has been eliminated, the use of force must stop. Any further use of force can be deemed illegal and result in an arrest.
As a general rule, even when the use of force is justified, deadly force is still illegal. The use of deadly force in self-defense is justified only when a person encounters the use or imminent use of unlawful deadly force. New York, however, maintains a duty to retreat. Under this duty, a person is prohibited from using deadly force if one can retreat with complete personal safety to oneself and others. There are only two exceptions to the duty to retreat. A person may stand their ground and use deadly force in self-defense when: (1) the person is in his home and was not the initial aggressor; or (2) the person is a police officer or acting at the direction of a police officer.
In addition, the legislature has set forth certain limited situations in which a person can use deadly force even where there is no use or imminent use of deadly force against him or her. Deadly force can be used when one reasonably believes that the other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery.
If you have been accused of a crime and believe that any actions you took were in self-defense, you should contact a Criminal Defense Attorney. This post merely scratches the surface of self-defense law and any affirmative defense should be discussed with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney.