New Mexico is a state with strong, pro-citizen self-defense laws, but in our exploration of various states’ castle doctrine laws, New Mexico proves to be somewhat unique compared to its contemporaries, and not in a good way.
It does not have a castle doctrine by name or even by statute.
Instead, New Mexico possesses a functional castle doctrine equivalent via jury instructions that compelled jurors to find a defender who has used force justifiably and self-defense as having no obligation to retreat.
This obviously covers self-defense in one’s own home and accordingly New Mexico can be said to have a castle doctrine of sorts.
Nonetheless, New Mexico is still decidedly friendly towards citizens’ rights of self-defense, but it is imperative that residents or visitors understand the intricacies of the law as it is written and interpreted.
This article will help you do just that, and make sure you stick around after the conclusion to give the statutes and specific jury instructions a read yourself.
- In or out of the home or other dwelling, self-defense in New Mexico requires that a defender be able to clearly articulate a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury before utilizing lethal force in self-defense of themselves or another.
- The castle doctrine equivalent jury instructions do not prevent a defender from being charged with manslaughter or murder even in cases that are clearly an instance of self-defense. This means that your courtroom defense must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that one acted in self-defense for the jury instructions to apply.
- Regrettably, New Mexico has no civil protection whatsoever for defenders who are acquitted of criminal charges, meaning that the aggressor, aggressors family or aggressors estate can conceivably launch a civil suit against them.
Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in New Mexico
There is little doubt that New Mexico is a staunchly pro self-defense state, but this assessment is hampered somewhat because it lacks entirely a castle doctrine codified into the state statutes themselves.
As mentioned above, castle doctrine in effect is only achieved by way of jury instructions asserting that a defender who was found to be acting justifiably and self-defense was under no obligation to retreat.
On the one hand, this is great because it means you have no obligation to retreat or to attempt retreat before resorting to force when defending yourself against a lethal threat or threat of great bodily injury in or near your home.
On the other hand, it means that a defender is still very likely to be charged with murder or manslaughter in the meantime, and all of this will have to drag out in court.
Furthermore, New Mexico defines several gradients of homicide, including “justifiable homicide by citizen,” “justifiable homicide” and “murder”.
“Justifiable homicide by citizen” is committed when a person kills another in the lawful defense of themselves or a third party while there existed reasonable grounds to believe that death or great bodily injury might have been inflicted on either, or a felony was occurring or likely to occur.
The takeaway from all this is that even in the clearest cut cases of self-defense it is very unlikely that you’ll be cleared at the scene, and instead you’ll be dragged into court with a judge and jury hearing the case and then deciding your fate.
Only in such circumstances that true homicide is on the table will the castle doctrine equivalent jury instructions have any impact on the outcome.
Statistically, justifiable self-defense usually results in a good outcome for the defender in New Mexico, but that does not mean that the ride between the aftermath and exoneration is going to be anything but harrowing.
Most readily, there is nothing in New Mexico law that precludes a defender who is found not guilty of criminal charges in the aftermath of a self-defense incident from being dragged into civil court by the aggressor, assuming they survived, the aggressor’s family or the aggressor’s estate.
You and your family could be threatened with mutilation and death by a career criminal who can then turn around, and sue you for all your worth. It is imperative that you have a good lawyer at your back, and call well prior to ever encountering this unfortunate circumstance.
Citizens in New Mexico have a right to defend themselves and their families while inside their own homes, but the state lacks a legitimate castle doctrine statute or set of statutes, instead relying upon the functional equivalent in the form of jury instructions.
Considering that those jury instructions will only mean anything once you are already embroiled in a trial for murder or manslaughter in the aftermath of the incident, New Mexico does not stack up favorably to other states with modern, codified castle doctrine statutes on their law books.
Relevant New Mexico Castle Doctrine Statutes
New Mexico Uniform Jury Instructions (UJI)
NM UJI 14-5190. Self defense; assailed person need not retreat.
A person who is threatened with an attack need not retreat. In the exercise of his right of self defense, he may stand his ground and defend himself.
30-1-12 – Definitions.
As used in the Criminal Code:
A. “great bodily harm” means an injury to the person which creates a high probability of death; or which causes serious disfigurement; or which results in permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any member or organ of the body;
B. “deadly weapon” means any firearm, whether loaded or unloaded; or any weapon which is capable of producing death or great bodily harm, including but not restricted to any types of daggers, brass knuckles, switchblade knives, bowie knives, poniards, butcher knives, dirk knives and all such weapons with which dangerous cuts can be given, or with which dangerous thrusts can be inflicted, including swordcanes, and any kind of sharp pointed canes, also slingshots, slung shots, bludgeons; or any other weapons with which dangerous wounds can be inflicted;
Section 30-2-1 – Murder.
A. Murder in the first degree is the killing of one human being by another without lawful justification or excuse, by any of the means with which death may be caused:
(1) by any kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing;
(2) in the commission of or attempt to commit any felony; or
(3) by any act greatly dangerous to the lives of others, indicating a depraved mind regardless of human life.
Whoever commits murder in the first degree is guilty of a capital felony.
B. Unless he is acting upon sufficient provocation, upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion, a person who kills another human being without lawful justification or excuse commits murder in the second degree if in performing the acts which cause the death he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another.
Murder in the second degree is a lesser included offense of the crime of murder in the first degree.
Whoever commits murder in the second degree is guilty of a second degree felony resulting in the death of a human being.
Section 30-2-7 – Justifiable homicide by citizen.
Homicide is justifiable when committed by any person in any of the following cases:
A. when committed in the necessary defense of his life, his family or his property, or in necessarily defending against any unlawful action directed against himself, his wife or family;
B. when committed in the lawful defense of himself or of another and when there is a reasonable ground to believe a design exists to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury against such person or another, and there is imminent danger that the design will be accomplished; or
C. when necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed in his presence, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in necessarily and lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.
Section 30-2-8 – When homicide is excusable or justifiable defendant to be acquitted.
Whenever any person is prosecuted for a homicide, and upon his trial the killing shall be found to have been excusable or justifiable, the jury shall find such person not guilty and he shall be discharged.