Self-Defense Laws in Brooklyn

You assaulted or killed someone while defending yourself. You always believed that meant you’d never have to worry about getting in trouble with the law.

As you may be about to find out, the reality of self-defense law is quite a bit more complicated than you might have imagined.

Self Defense Doesn’t Prevent Arrest

Self-defense is an affirmative defense to charges involving the use of physical force. It does not stop the DA from pressing charges, nor does it prevent police from arresting you. In fact, when police find anyone involved in a physical altercation, they often arrest everyone involved.

For example, police recently arrested and charged a Brooklyn teenager who stabbed a gay Black dancer at a gas station. He was charged with murder, and the crime was charged as a hate crime, even though his legal team is considering a self-defense argument.

Another example involves former US Marine Daniel Penny, who placed a homeless man in a fatal chokehold. The man was shouting at subway passengers and demanding money when Penny pinned him down. Penny is charged with manslaughter. He claimed to be defending himself as well as the women and children on the train. Will the courts agree? It’s too soon to tell, but it can be harder to show that lethal force is justified.

While under arrest, you should treat the arrest just like you’d treat any other arrest: invoke your rights to remain silent and invoke your right to an attorney. Doing anything else may significantly harm your case.

Repeatedly protesting to the police that you were acting in self-defense will not inspire them to release you, so don’t try. Your sole focus should be on avoiding conviction, and that means keeping your mouth shut. 

Self Defense is Limited

New York Penal Law Article 35 only allows you to use physical force against another person to the extent you reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend yourself against the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by another person. 

The law also allows you to defend others in this fashion.

The trouble comes when attempting to discern whether the use of force was “reasonable.” There is no real definition for that word. In practical terms, it means what the DA, jury, or judge considers to be reasonable. In some cases, it may mean whether the police think you were being reasonable, as they have the authority to arrest you or not arrest you. 

If the courts think you used more force than was warranted or that no reasonable person would ever conclude they were under serious threat, you may still face criminal charges.

Remember that New York imposes a duty to retreat law. If you know you can safely retreat and remain safe, then you are obligated to do so. Your lawyer can provide evidence that you may not have known you had the safe ability to retreat even if you had an option and didn’t take it, but must still show you met your duty under the law.

The Castle Doctrine Does Exist in New York

You are generally allowed to defend your home against an intruder with as much force as necessary to protect your home and family. The law does not require you to flee from your own home to avoid harming someone who willfully entered it and threatened you.

Self Defense is Complicated

You should get help if you’ve been charged with assault, battery, or murder, even if you believe you have a solid self-defense argument. You should consult with your lawyer as to whether or not that’s the best argument to use, and you should take the charges as seriously as you’d take any other charges.

The law is complicated. Get help today. Call Neil S. Ruskin, attorney at law.

See also:

What is a Hate Crime in Brooklyn, NY? 

The Two Degrees of Assault

Defending Against Assault and Battery Charges

Contact Neil S. Ruskin

Bold labels are required.

Please enter your name.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter a valid phone number.
Please enter a message.
Please check this field.

Office Location

Neil S. Ruskin
188 Montague Street Suite 900
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Local: (718) 237-1547
Fax: 718-875-4011