New York self-defense laws allow citizens facing immediate danger to protect themselves using physical force. While New York law permits the use of deadly physical force under the Castle Doctrine in some circumstances, the state of New York also imposes the duty to retreat in other cases.

The laws surrounding self-defense in New York can be extremely difficult to grasp. Despite the confusion surrounding self-defense or retreat laws, in high-pressure situations, regardless of what New York law permits, most of us will do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help a judge or jury understand the justification for using physical force when backed into a metaphorical corner.

If you have been accused of a violent crime, you may be able to claim self-defense as a legal justification for your actions. Nassau County, Long Island criminal defense attorney Gianni Karmily can evaluate your situation and build a solid self-defense claim as a valid defense against criminal charges.

We have multiple locations, so call our law office closest to you. You can reach our Great Neck office at (516) 630-3405 and our Hampstead office at (516) 614-4228.

What is Self-Defense?

Self-defense in New York is an important criminal defense that allows individuals to protect themselves or others from assaults and other violent crimes through the use of physical force and, in some cases, even deadly physical force. Self-defense laws help individuals avoid criminal prosecution if they aid in citizen’s arrests, stop a crime, or defend themselves or a third party against an imminent threat or illegal imminent use of force.

In New York, self-defense is also known as “justification.”

It’s important to note that self-defense can only be used as a legal justification for such force in very specific circumstances, like when protecting yourself from clear and imminent harm or preventing a violent crime from occurring. Self-defense laws in New York define exactly which situations allow for physical force but not deadly physical force and which situations allow for deadly force.

NY Self Defense Laws: Justification Defense in New York

NY Self Defense Laws: Justification Defense in New York

The justification of self-defense is defined in New York Penal Law Section 35.00 through 35.30. It defines self-defense as the use of justifiable physical force or conduct (which would otherwise be unlawful) to avoid imminent public or private physical harm. The use of physical force–not deadly physical force–can be lawful:

  • as an emergency measure to stop someone from committing suicide or causing serious physical injury to themselves
  • in preventing someone from injuring a third person using physical force or other violent crimes
  • in preventing a crime involving damage to property
  • to stop a criminal trespass on private property
  • to stop an attempted burglary
  • in preventing larceny or criminal mischief to property
  • when aiding police officers in citizen’s arrests or preventing an escape from custody

The use of physical force, even non-deadly physical force, does not apply to all situations. Individuals cannot use the justification of such force as self-defense when:

  • They were the initial aggressor–being the initial aggressor voids the notion of a reasonable belief that there was an imminent threat of physical harm.
  • Both parties were engaging in combat by agreement
  • Resisting arrest from peace officers in the reasonable exercise of their duties.

Certain individuals can use physical force in situations where there is no illegal imminent use of force in order to maintain discipline. This can include parents (in some cases), prison wardens, physicians, and police, who can use the justification of self-defense when enacting discipline or carrying out their professional duties.

New York Duty to Retreat

In New York, the duty to retreat law imposes the duty to retreat before the person can resort to the use of physical force, especially deadly physical force in self-defense. It’s important to note that the duty to retreat is only imposed on someone who can retreat to complete safety.

This concept allows individuals to avoid criminal prosecution after they use physical force to defend themselves or others from imminent unlawful physical force if the person reasonably believes the threat of physical injury unless:

  • They can retreat to complete personal safety
  • They are in their own home
  • They are a police officer or peace officer

Basically, if someone has the ability to retreat to complete safety, they do not have a right to use physical force against another person. However, it’s important to note that the duty to retreat does not apply to anyone who is facing a threat of deadly force or if exercising the duty to retreat would place them or others in further danger.

Castle Doctrine New York (Stand Your Ground Law New York)

The Castle Doctrine in New York applies to victims of a violent crime in their own homes. While New York does not have a specific “stand your ground law,” like the majority of states, lawmakers do understand the need for homeowners to be able to protect themselves in their own homes. While New York imposes a duty to retreat, it also allows you to “stand your ground” within the confines of your own home or property.

Property owners have special rights under New York’s self-defense laws, allowing them to defend their home or “castle” against intruders. Essentially, the castle doctrine allows individuals to use physical force, including deadly force if necessary, to prevent or stop the commission of certain crimes on their premises, as they cannot safely retreat.

Property owners can use non-deadly physical force when preventing or stopping:

  • criminal trespass or arson to their property
  • burglary
  • larceny or criminal mischief to property

In New York State, citizens may use physical force, but not deadly physical force, when the victim reasonably believes that the use of physical force is necessary to prevent a crime involving damage, such as criminal mischief, to the property. This applies whether the use of physical force was enacted by the owner or is in control of the occupied building. However, the use of deadly physical force may only be used when the person reasonably believes that the use of deadly physical force is required to stop an arson or attempted arson.

Property owners or those owning or possessing an occupied building can use deadly physical force if the person reasonably believes the use of deadly force is required to stop what the victim reasonably believes to be an attempted burglary.

These additional provisions give property owners additional rights, extending the number of situations in which they can use the self-defense justification. They also ensure that property owners are able to take reasonable emergency action against perpetrators when defending their property and their families.

Castle Doctrine New York (Stand Your Ground Law New York)

Using Deadly Force to Prevent Deadly Physical Force, Kidnapping, Burglary, or a Forcible Criminal Sexual Act

Under New York Penal Law Article 35, individuals may use deadly physical force to defend themselves and others when the person is not the initial aggressor and the person reasonably believes that the attacker is using or will soon use deadly force or a deadly weapon. For situations occurring outside of your residence, you have a limited duty to retreat under New York law.

Secondly, if a person is instructed by a police officer to aid in an arrest or prevent an escape, they may use deadly physical force when a reasonable belief exists that the perpetrator presents an imminent threat and deadly force is necessary for self-defense, or they are instructed by the peace officer to do so. When aiding in an arrest without instruction from a police officer, an individual can only use deadly physical force when the perpetrator attempts to harm the person assisting or a third person or the assistant reasonably believes deadly force is required to defend themselves or a third person from an imminent threat of deadly force. It’s important to note that the above rule only applies to those who have physically witnessed a criminal act or have been instructed by police officers to partake in such conduct. New York law does not justify when someone reasonably believes such other person committed a criminal act and uses force to stop a non-violent offense. The law requires more than a reasonable belief that the person committed a criminal act.

New York law has made provisions in limited situations where a person can use deadly physical force to protect themselves and others from certain violent crimes and sex crimes in New York State. Individuals can use deadly force when preventing or stopping someone from committing:

  • Kidnapping
  • Forcible rape
  • Forcible aggravated sexual abuse
  • Forcible criminal sexual act
  • Robbery

Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer On Long Island

If you have used a lawful degree of force to defend yourself but have received criminal charges, you need a Long Island violent crimes lawyer who can help build a solid self-defense claim in your favor. At the Law Firm of Gianni Karmily, PLLC, we’re dedicated to providing our clients with personalized legal assistance as well as personal advocacy in this trying time. Attorney Karmily can help you claim self-defense, ensuring you are protected from unjust criminal prosecution. With his deep understanding of New York’s complex legal system and a proven track record of success, he’s here to help ensure you receive the best possible outcome in your case.

Schedule a free case evaluation with Attorney Karmily and take your first step toward justice. Call our Great Neck law office at (516) 630-3405 or our Hempstead law office at (516) 614-4228. You can also contact us online, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible regarding your case.