Castle Doctrine Law: North Carolina

Castle Doctrine is an important precept in self-defense law that states a person has a right to defend their home or other dwelling, and usually they’re occupied vehicle or business, from Intruders with no obligation to the state to retreat before doing so.

flag of North Carolina
flag of North Carolina

This is a fundamental human right that in the past has been seen as something of a contentious topic, although today the vast majority of states in the U.S. have self-defense laws of this type on the books or operate under it effectively due to precedent in case law.

North Carolina is one such state that is thankfully possessed of Castle Doctrine laws in the states statutes that, while somewhat lengthy, are effectively written and provide strong legal and civic protection to people who would defend their home from dangerous intruders.

The article below will provide you with an overview of North Carolina’s Castle Doctrine laws and will feature a selection of the most important passages from the state statutes at the end.

Fast Facts

  • North Carolina law justifies a defender’s use of deadly force against any other persons unlawful use of similar Force against them so long as they are in any place they have a legal, lawful right to be, including their home, place of business or vehicle.
  • North Carolina law further presumes that any such person occupying one of the above places, including their vehicle, has a fear of great bodily injury or death whenever anyone attempts to illegally enter the above locations or illegally remove an occupant from them.
  • North Carolina law provides immunity to both criminal and civil liability to any defender acting in accordance with the law pertaining to the above circumstances.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in North Carolina

Nominally, self-defense laws in North Carolina state that any defender may use force on behalf of themselves or another person to stop the unlawful use of force.

However, in most circumstances the defensive force used must be proportional to the unlawful force being used against them or the third party, meaning that lethal force may only be utilized against the unlawful use of force that may result in death or great bodily injury.

But, whenever a defender is occupying their home, place of business or vehicle the state of North Carolina presumes that the defender has a legitimate, reasonable fear for their life or the threat of great bodily injury in any such instance where another person is unlawfully entering or attempting to enter the home, business, vehicle or other dwelling or is attempting to remove any occupant from any said place.

Although codified in a separate statute, North Carolina’s self-defense laws plainly state that any defender who is in any place where they have a legal, lawful right to be and is otherwise legally justified in employing lethal force against an appropriate threat directed against themselves or another has no obligation to the law to retreat or attempt retreat before utilizing that lethal force in defense.

Happily, North Carolina also provides immunity for any citizen who acted justifiably under the statutes laid down above, immunity both from criminal and civil liability.

Restrictions

Castle Doctrine and other self-defense laws do not apply in the case where the person who is attempting entry to the place has a legal, lawful right to occupy or enter the property or has guardianship over someone who they are attempting to remove from any such place.

As always, Castle Doctrine does not apply to or cover the use of force against any officer or official of the state at any level in the execution of their lawful duties.

Assessment

North Carolina has generally excellent self-defense laws and a particularly good set of Castle Doctrine statutes on the books.

If any person is occupying their home, vehicle or place of business they may use force including lethal force against any unlawful entry or attempted unlawful entry into that place, or against anyone who is attempting to remove someone unlawfully from any such place.

For the more the state presumes that any defender acting lawfully in such circumstances has no obligation to retreat and is further immune from both criminal and civil liability.

Relevant North Carolina Castle Doctrine Statutes

14-51.2. Home, workplace, and motor vehicle protection; presumption of fear of death or serious bodily harm.

(a) The following definitions apply in this section:

(1) Home. – A building or conveyance of any kind, to include its curtilage, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, and is designed as a temporary or permanent residence.

(2) Law enforcement officer. – Any person employed or appointed as a full-time, part-time, or auxiliary law enforcement officer, correctional officer, probation officer, post-release supervision officer, or parole officer.

(3) Motor vehicle. – As defined in G.S. 20-4.01(23).

(4) Workplace. – A building or conveyance of any kind, whether the building or conveyance is temporary or permanent, mobile or immobile, which has a roof over it, including a tent, which is being used for commercial purposes.

(b) The lawful occupant of a home, motor vehicle, or workplace is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm to himself or herself or another when using defensive force that is intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to another if both of the following apply:

(1) The person against whom the defensive force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a home, motor vehicle, or workplace, or if that person had removed or was attempting to remove another against that person’s will from the home, motor vehicle, or workplace.

(2) The person who uses defensive force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

(c) The presumption set forth in subsection (b) of this section shall be rebuttable and does not apply in any of the following circumstances:

(1) The person against whom the defensive force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the home, motor vehicle, or workplace, such as an owner or lessee, and there is not an injunction for protection from domestic violence or a written pretrial supervision order of no contact against that person.

(2) The person sought to be removed from the home, motor vehicle, or workplace is a child or grandchild or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of the person against whom the defensive force is used.

(3) The person who uses defensive force is engaged in, attempting to escape from, or using the home, motor vehicle, or workplace to further any criminal offense that involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

(4) The person against whom the defensive force is used is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who enters or attempts to enter a home, motor vehicle, or workplace in the lawful performance of his or her official duties, and the officer or bail bondsman identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman in the lawful performance of his or her official duties.

(5) The person against whom the defensive force is used (i) has discontinued all efforts to unlawfully and forcefully enter the home, motor vehicle, or workplace and (ii) has exited the home, motor vehicle, or workplace.

(d) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s home, motor vehicle, or workplace is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.

(e) A person who uses force as permitted by this section is justified in using such force and is immune from civil or criminal liability for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who was lawfully acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer or bail bondsman identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman in the lawful performance of his or her official duties.

(f) A lawful occupant within his or her home, motor vehicle, or workplace does not have a duty to retreat from an intruder in the circumstances described in this section.

(g) This section is not intended to repeal or limit any other defense that may exist under the common law


14-51.3. Use of force in defense of person; relief from criminal or civil liability.

(a) A person is justified in using force, except deadly force, against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that the conduct is necessary to defend himself or herself or another against the other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat in any place he or she has the lawful right to be if either of the following applies:

(1) He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.

(2) Under the circumstances permitted pursuant to G.S. 14-51.2.

(b) A person who uses force as permitted by this section is justified in using such force and is immune from civil or criminal liability for the use of such force, unless the person against whom force was used is a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman who was lawfully acting in the performance of his or her official duties and the officer or bail bondsman identified himself or herself in accordance with any applicable law or the person using force knew or reasonably should have known that the person was a law enforcement officer or bail bondsman in the lawful performance of his or her official duties.


14-51.4. Justification for defensive force not available.

The justification described in G.S. 14-51.2 and G.S. 14-51.3 is not available to a person who used defensive force and who:

(1) Was attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a felony.

(2) Initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself. However, the person who initially provokes the use of force against himself or herself will be justified in using defensive force if either of the following occur:

a. The force used by the person who was provoked is so serious that the person using defensive force reasonably believes that he or she was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, the person using defensive force had no reasonable means to retreat, and the use of force which is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to the person who was provoked was the only way to escape the danger.

b. The person who used defensive force withdraws, in good faith, from physical contact with the person who was provoked, and indicates clearly that he or she desires to withdraw and terminate the use of force, but the person who was provoked continues or resumes the use of force.

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