Stand Your Ground Law: New Mexico

New Mexico is something of a unique case when it comes to stand-your-ground laws. Though New Mexico is regarded as a decidedly self-defense friendly state, it does not have a true stand-your-ground statute according to the now typical standards of the day.

Instead, New Mexico relies on specific jury instructions that notify jurors a defender who is justified in using force in self-defense has no duty to retreat.

New Mexico flag

If you are thinking that that sounds a lot like typical self-defense statutes in other gun friendly, pro-self-defense states, you’d be right! However, considering this crucial difference in the proper context is everything, and the aftermath of a self-defense encounter could go quite differently for a defender because of it.

It is imperative that all residents of and travelers to New Mexico understand the intricacies of the state’s laws and jury instructions on the matter of self-defense. Keep reading to get the details.

What You Need to Know

  • Since New Mexico’s only stand-your-ground provision is contained in jury instructions, this means that you can still be charged with murder or manslaughter even in a clear case of self-defense and must rely on your attorney to prove you acted in self-defense for the SYG provision to back you up.
  • The jury instructions notwithstanding, New Mexico still requires a defender to be in fear of their life or great bodily injury before employing lethal force in self-defense.
  • New Mexico notably lacks any protection for defenders who win a criminal prosecution case from being dragged into civil court.

General Provisions

New Mexico’s self-defense laws, including what stand-your-ground provision they have in the form of jury instructions, is definitely an interesting case.

Overall, the state is decidedly pro-gun and definitely pro self-defense, but the way the statutes are configured, the conspicuous lack of immunity from civil prosecution if a defender is cleared of charges in criminal court and the reliance on jury instructions for conveying what mandate should be ensconced in the laws of the land is troubling.

First things first, let’s get the basics of New Mexico’s self-defense laws out of the way. A person may plead self-defense to the charges of murder. What is murder defined as in this case?

Murder is the first degree killing of one human being by another without lawful justification or excuse. There are qualifications to this, including willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, killing in the commission of a felony and acting in a way that is greatly dangerous to the lives of others.

Statute 30-2-1 then goes on to explain that unless a person is acting upon sufficient provocation, upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion, anyone who kills another human being without lawful justification or excuse commits murder in the second degree.

A few sections later, Section 30-2-7 defines “justifiable homicide by citizen” as any homicide committed in the necessary defense of life, his family or property or in defense against any unlawful action directed against himself, his wife or family.

That section then goes on to further qualify that justifiable homicide occurs also when committed by a person in the lawful defense of another person or themselves when there is a reasonable ground to believe that a felony or some great personal injury will be inflicted and there is imminent danger that that will occur.

In short, a person may only use force in self-defense, specifically lethal force, when they are facing a proportional amount of force directed against themselves or someone else, or in certain cases against their property when a forcible felony is being committed or about to be committed.

Despite this provision, in all likelihood the defender will still be charged and will certainly face their day in court.

And this is the crucial consideration, because the judge and all likelihood will hear the case, and it is only when charges of homicide are being brought to bear that New Mexico’s comparatively flimsy stand your ground provision in the form of jury instructions will be trotted out.

Your attorney had better be good, because they will still have the odious task of convincing a panel of your “peers” that you did indeed act in self-defense and therefore had no obligation to retreat.

Restrictions

Note that New Mexico law does not in any way prevent or prohibit civil charges being levied against a defender previously acquitted of criminal charges by way of legitimate self-defense.

Put another way, the scumbag who was threatening you and your kids with a knife or gun who rightfully wound up with several bullets in his chest cavity and an all expenses paid trip to the morgue might have a family who is so aggrieved about the loss of their precious baby boy that they decide to sue you for pain and suffering and the law will do nothing to prevent this occurrence.

Assessment

New Mexico is certainly an interesting state when it comes to self-defense laws in general and a stand your ground law in particular, since the state does not have a true version of the latter to reinforce the former.

Instead, New Mexico is one of a few states that rely upon stand your ground jury instructions that, while nice to have on the books, do nothing to potentially ameliorate or otherwise head-off the eventuality of a criminal trial when a defender uses force, particularly lethal force, in self-defense.

Relevant New Mexico Use of Force 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;

C. “peace officer” means any public official or public officer vested by law with a duty to maintain public order or to make arrests for crime, whether that duty extends to all crimes or is limited to specific crimes;

D. “another” or “other” means any other human being or legal entity, whether incorporated or unincorporated, including the United States, the state of New Mexico or any subdivision thereof;

E. “person” means any human being or legal entity, whether incorporated or unincorporated, including the United States, the state of New Mexico or any subdivision thereof;

F. “anything of value” means any conceivable thing of the slightest value, tangible or intangible, movable or immovable, corporeal or incorporeal, public or private. The term is not necessarily synonymous with the traditional legal term “property”;

G. “official proceeding” means a proceeding heard before any legislative, judicial, administrative or other governmental agency or official authorized to hear evidence under oath, including any referee, hearing examiner, commissioner, notary or other person taking testimony or depositions in any proceeding;

H. “lawful custody or confinement” means the holding of any person pursuant to lawful authority, including, without limitation, actual or conseructive [constructive] custody of prisoners temporarily outside a penal institution, reformatory, jail, prison farm or ranch;

I. “public officer” means any elected or appointed officer of the state or any of its political subdivisions, and whether or not he receives remuneration for his services; and

J. “public employee” means any person receiving remuneration for regular services rendered to the state or any of its political subdivisions.

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 30-2-5 – Excusable homicide.

Homicide is excusable in the following cases:

A. when committed by accident or misfortune in doing any lawful act, by lawful means, with usual and ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent; or

B. when committed by accident or misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat, if no undue advantage is taken, nor any dangerous weapon used and the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

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.

Section 30-3-1 – Assault.

Assault consists of either:

A. an attempt to commit a battery upon the person of another;

B. any unlawful act, threat or menacing conduct which causes another person to reasonably believe that he is in danger of receiving an immediate battery; or

C. the use of insulting language toward another impugning his honor, delicacy or reputation.

Section 30-3-2 – Aggravated assault.

Aggravated assault consists of either:

A. unlawfully assaulting or striking at another with a deadly weapon;

B. committing assault by threatening or menacing another while wearing a mask, hood, robe or other covering upon the face, head or body, or while disguised in any manner, so as to conceal identity; or

C. wilfully [willfully] and intentionally assaulting another with intent to commit any felony.

Whoever commits aggravated assault is guilty of a fourth degree felony.

Section 30-3-3 – Assault with intent to commit a violent felony.

Assault with intent to commit a violent felony consists of any person assaulting another with intent to kill or commit any murder, mayhem, criminal sexual penetration in the first, second or third degree, robbery or burglary.

Whoever commits assault with intent to commit a violent felony is guilty of a third degree felony.

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