Castle Doctrine Law: New Hampshire

New Hampshire is rarely discussed among states with strong self-defense laws, but the state nonetheless possesses them.

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Among these laws is a definitive castle doctrine statute. However, the wording of New Hampshire’s laws and the self-defense laws, in particular, tends toward being lengthy and difficult to decipher for those without a solid grounding in legal verbiage.

Despite the potentially clumsy wording to laypersons, New Hampshire’s laws do affirm an individual’s right to defend themselves and others from the threat of death or great bodily injury at the hands of an attacker whether they are in their home or place of business.

It should be noted, however, that New Hampshire’s self-defense law does have several important nuances depending on whether one is at their home or other occupied premises versus in public.

Civilian defenders would do well to understand these differences, so keep reading and we will explain it all below.

Fast Facts

  • New Hampshire law justifies the use of deadly force in defense of self or a third party as long as the defender has a reasonable belief they or the third party are at risk of death or great bodily injury due to the use of unlawful force by an attacker.
  • New Hampshire law stipulates that a defender has no obligation to attempt retreat prior to the use of lethal force in self-defense so long as they are occupying a dwelling, the cartilage of their dwelling, or anywhere else they have a lawful right to be.
  • The use of deadly force in self-defense is also justified to prevent the imminent commission or ongoing commission of certain forcible felonies, particularly home invasion, sexual assault, and kidnapping.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in New Hampshire

Despite being somewhat overwrought and, in my opinion, too long, New Hampshire’s self-defense laws and castle doctrine statute are quite clear.

The use of lethal force in self-defense is justified anytime a defender is under the reasonable belief that they or another person face the risk of death or great bodily injury due to the use of unlawful force by an attacker.

Deadly force may also be used in self-defense to stop an imminent or ongoing forcible felony.

Forcible felonies in this case our home invasion, carjacking, kidnapping, sexual assault or any other felony where the victim would necessarily suffer a risk of great bodily injury or death.

So long as an attacker is at their home or other dwellings, place of business or any other place they have a legal, lawful right to be they need not attempt to retreat prior to using force, including lethal force, and self-defense so long as it is otherwise justified.

Restrictions

The use of force in self-defense and the lethal force, in particular, is never justified if the defender was committing or preparing to commit a crime, was the initial aggressor in the confrontation, or otherwise acting outside the bounds of the law, particularly as it pertains to any official executing their duties or the legal claim of another person to the custody of a minor or ward.

Additionally, in any place where a person otherwise has a right to be but might have provoked an encounter one may not resort to the use of force, including lethal force, without attempting to retreat first so long as it may be done in complete safety.

Be sure you check out section 627:4 below for more details.

Furthermore, a defender in New Hampshire may never use lethal force in defense of property alone, except as it pertains to the protection of an occupied dwelling, place of business, or vehicle.

You cannot haul off and shoot someone just because they are tampering with your unoccupied vehicle or vandalizing it.

Assessment

New Hampshire has much to recommend it concerning self-defense laws, and a strongly worded, if lengthy and circuitous, castle doctrine statute.

Citizens may use lethal force to defend themselves and other occupants of a dwelling, business, or other structure from the unlawful use of force by an assailant that might result in death or great bodily injury.

With scarce few exceptions, defenders need not attempt to retreat prior to using force in such circumstances.

Relevant New Hampshire Castle Doctrine Statutes

627:9 Definitions.

As used in this chapter:

I. “Curtilage” means those outbuildings which are proximately, directly and intimately connected with a dwelling, together with all the land or grounds surrounding the dwelling such as are necessary, convenient, and habitually used for domestic purposes.

II. “Deadly force” means any assault or confinement which the actor commits with the purpose of causing or which he knows to create a substantial risk of causing death or serious bodily injury.

Purposely firing a firearm capable of causing serious bodily injury or death in the direction of another person or at a vehicle in which another is believed to be constitutes deadly force.

III. “Dwelling” means any building, structure, vehicle, boat or other place adapted for overnight accommodation of persons, or sections of any place similarly adapted. It is immaterial whether a person is actually present.

IV. “Non-deadly force” means any assault or confinement which does not constitute deadly force. The act of producing or displaying a weapon shall constitute non-deadly force.

626:7 Defenses; Affirmative Defenses and Presumptions.

I. When evidence is admitted on a matter declared by this code to be:

(a) A defense, the state must disprove such defense beyond a reasonable doubt; or

(b) An affirmative defense, the defendant has the burden of establishing such defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

II. When this code establishes a presumption with respect to any fact which is an element of an offense, it has the following consequences:

(a) When there is evidence of the facts which give rise to the presumption, the issue of the existence of the presumed fact must be submitted to the jury, unless the court is satisfied that the evidence as a whole clearly negatives the presumed fact; and

(b) When the issue of the existence of the presumed fact is submitted to the jury, the court shall charge that while the presumed fact must, on all the evidence, be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, the law declares that the jury may regard the facts giving rise to the presumption as sufficient evidence of the presumed fact.


627:1-a Civil Immunity.

A person who uses force in self-protection or in the protection of other persons pursuant to RSA 627:4, in the protection of premises and property pursuant to RSA 627:7 and 627:8, in law enforcement pursuant to RSA 627:5, or in the care or welfare of a minor pursuant to RSA 627:6, is justified in using such force and shall be immune from civil liability for personal injuries sustained by a perpetrator which were caused by the acts or omissions of the person as a result of the use of force.

In a civil action initiated by or on behalf of a perpetrator against the person, the court shall award the person reasonable attorney’s fees, and costs, including but not limited to, expert witness fees, court costs, and compensation for loss of income.


627:3 Competing Harms.

I. Conduct which the actor believes to be necessary to avoid harm to himself or another is justifiable if the desirability and urgency of avoiding such harm outweigh, according to ordinary standards of reasonableness, the harm sought to be prevented by the statute defining the offense charged.

The desirability and urgency of such conduct may not rest upon considerations pertaining to the morality and advisability of such statute, either in its general or particular application.

II. When the actor was reckless or negligent in bringing about the circumstances requiring a choice of harms or in appraising the necessity of his conduct, the justification provided in paragraph I does not apply in a prosecution for any offense for which recklessness or negligence, as the case may be, suffices to establish criminal liability.


627:4 Physical Force in Defense of a Person.

I. A person is justified in using non-deadly force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful, non-deadly force by such other person, and he may use a degree of such force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose. However, such force is not justifiable if:

(a) With a purpose to cause physical harm to another person, he provoked the use of unlawful, non-deadly force by such other person; or

(b) He was the initial aggressor, unless after such aggression he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so, but the latter notwithstanding continues the use or threat of unlawful, non-deadly force; or

(c) The force involved was the product of a combat by agreement not authorized by law.

II. A person is justified in using deadly force upon another person when he reasonably believes that such other person:

(a) Is about to use unlawful, deadly force against the actor or a third person;

(b) Is likely to use any unlawful force against a person present while committing or attempting to commit a burglary;

(c) Is committing or about to commit kidnapping or a forcible sex offense; or

(d) Is likely to use any unlawful force in the commission of a felony against the actor within such actor’s dwelling or its curtilage.

II-a. A person who responds to a threat which would be considered by a reasonable person as likely to cause serious bodily injury or death to the person or to another by displaying a firearm or other means of self-defense with the intent to warn away the person making the threat shall not have committed a criminal act.

III. A person is not justified in using deadly force on another to defend himself or herself or a third person from deadly force by the other if he or she knows that he or she and the third person can, with complete safety:

(a) Retreat from the encounter, except that he or she is not required to retreat if he or she is within his or her dwelling, its curtilage, or anywhere he or she has a right to be, and was not the initial aggressor; or

(b) Surrender property to a person asserting a claim of right thereto; or

(c) Comply with a demand that he or she abstain from performing an act which he or she is not obliged to perform; nor is the use of deadly force justifiable when, with the purpose of causing death or serious bodily harm, the person has provoked the use of force against himself or herself in the same encounter; or

(d) If he or she is a law enforcement officer or a private person assisting the officer at the officer’s direction and was acting pursuant to RSA 627:5, the person need not retreat.


627:7 Use of Force in Defense of Premises.

A person in possession or control of premises or a person who is licensed or privileged to be thereon is justified in using non-deadly force upon another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent or terminate the commission of a criminal trespass by such other in or upon such premises, but he may use deadly force under such circumstances only in defense of a person as prescribed in RSA 627:4 or when he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent an attempt by the trespasser to commit arson.


627:8 Use of Force in Property Offenses.

A person is justified in using force upon another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes it necessary to prevent what is or reasonably appears to be an unlawful taking of his property, or criminal mischief, or to retake his property immediately following its taking; but he may use deadly force under such circumstances only in defense of a person as prescribed in RSA 627:4.

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