Castle Doctrine Law: North Dakota

North Dakota is a state with a well-deserved reputation for rugged inhabitants and an attitude of individualism, what’s surprisingly the state has not always possessed stalwart laws of self-defense.

That isn’t the case today, though, and though they are a little bit lengthy in sections North Dakota has one of the stronger versions of castle doctrine law on the books.

Generally speaking, so long as a person is in their home, dwelling, place of business, or a motor vehicle or camper, they may use lethal force in self-defense as necessary to prevent the commission of various forcible felonies or to prevent the risk of death or great bodily injury to themselves or another occupant.

In the rest of this article we will tell you everything you need to know about North Dakota’s castle doctrine statutes and have included the exact text of the laws at the end for you to review yourself.

Fast Facts

  • North Dakota justifies the use of deadly force and self-defense whenever such force is necessary to protect the defender or another person against the risk of death or great bodily injury.
  • Deadly force and self-defense is also justified to prevent the commission of any felony involving violence, including robbery, burglary and arson.
  • At no time does a defender who is otherwise not engaged in any unlawful activity have a responsibility to retreat or to attempt retreat from any place they have a legal right to be if legal force is required in defense.
  • The state of North Dakota presumes that a defender has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury prior to resorting to deadly force and self-defense if the attacker was in the process of forcibly entering their occupied at dwelling or had already forcibly entered the dwelling.

Overview of Castle Doctrine Law in North Dakota

North Dakota’s self-defense laws, and their castle doctrine statutes in particular are unambiguous when it comes to a citizen’s rights to self-defense.

Succinctly, a defender is justified in using lethal force and self-defense if they have a reasonable belief that they or someone else might suffer death or great bodily injury due to the use of unlawful force by an attacker.

Lethal force may also be justifiably used in defense to prevent the commission of any forcible felony. Forcible felonies are things like robbery, burglary, rape, sexual assault, etc.

If the defender is in any place they have a legal lawful right to be, but particularly it’s either dwelling, place of work or business, motor vehicle, motor home or travel trailer or is in any way licensed to occupy a given property they have no obligation to retreat prior to using lethal force in defense if lethal force is otherwise justified.

Lastly, North Dakota presumes that a defender has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury for themselves or on account of another prior to resorting to lethal force in defense if the attacker was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering or had already unlawfully and forcibly entered an occupied dwelling, place of business, vehicle, motor home or travel trailer.

Restrictions

As normal, the use of force in self-defense and particularly lethal force is never justified if the defender is engaged in any criminal activity, facilitating criminal activity, illegally or unlawfully occupying a place they have no right to be, or was the initial aggressor in an encounter.

Similarly, mutual combat or combat by agreement makes any claim of self-defense as justification for the use of lethal force invalid.

Assessment

In recent years the tune-up of North Dakota’s self-defense laws, including an extremely strong Castle doctrine, is nothing short of a huge win for citizen defenders.

So long as a person is using force proportional to a lethal threat against themselves or someone else then lethal force is justified in self-defense, or to prevent the commission or imminent commission of a forcible felony.

At no point does any defender who is justified in using lethal force, under those circumstances, have any obligation to the state to retreat or to attempt retreat.

Relevant North Dakota Castle Doctrine Statutes

12.1-05-01. Justification.

1. Except as otherwise expressly provided, justification or excuse under this chapter is a defense.

2. If a person is justified or excused in using force against another, but he recklessly or negligently injures or creates a risk of injury to other persons, the justifications afforded by this chapter are unavailable in a prosecution for such recklessness or negligence.

3. That conduct may be justified or excused within the meaning of this chapter does not abolish or impair any remedy for such conduct which is available in any civil action.


12.1-05-03. Self-defense.

A person is justified in using force upon another person to defend himself against danger of imminent unlawful bodily injury, sexual assault, or detention by such other person, except that:

1. A person is not justified in using force for the purpose of resisting arrest, execution of process, or other performance of duty by a public servant under color of law, but excessive force may be resisted.

2. A person is not justified in using force if:

a. He intentionally provokes unlawful action by another person to cause bodily injury or death to such other person; or

b. He has entered into a mutual combat with another person or is the initial aggressor unless he is resisting force which is clearly excessive in the circumstances. A person’s use of defensive force after he withdraws from an encounter and indicates to the other person that he has done so is justified if the latter nevertheless continues or menaces unlawful action.


12.1-05-04. Defense of others.

A person is justified in using force upon another person in order to defend anyone else if:

1. The person defended would be justified in defending himself; and

2. The person coming to the defense has not, by provocation or otherwise, forfeited the right of self-defense.


12.1-05-06. Use of force in defense of premises and property.

Force is justified if it is used to prevent or terminate an unlawful entry or other trespass in or upon premises, or to prevent an unlawful carrying away or damaging of property. 


12.1-05-07. Limits on the use of force – Excessive force – Deadly force.

 1. An individual is not justified in using more force than is necessary and appropriate under the circumstances.

2. Deadly force is justified in the following instances:

a. When it is expressly authorized by law or occurs in the lawful conduct of war.

b. When used in lawful self-defense, or in lawful defense of others, if such force is necessary to protect the actor or anyone else against death, serious bodily injury, or the commission of a felony involving violence. The use of deadly force is not justified if it can be avoided, with safety to the actor and others, by retreat or other conduct involving minimal interference with the freedom of the individual menaced. An individual seeking to protect another individual must, before using deadly force, try to cause the other individual to retreat, or otherwise comply with the requirements of this provision, if safety can be obtained thereby. However, the duty to retreat or avoid force does not apply under the following circumstances:

(1) A public servant justified in using force in the performance of the public servant’s duties or an individual justified in using force in assisting the public servant need not desist from the public servant’s or individual’s efforts because of resistance or threatened resistance by or on behalf of the other individual against whom the public servant’s or individual’s action is directed; and

(2) An individual who is not engaged in an unlawful activity that gives rise to the need for the use of deadly force and has not provoked the individual against whom the deadly force is used, unless the circumstances in subdivision b of subsection 2 of section 12.1 – 05 – 03 apply is not required to retreat within or from any place the individual otherwise is legally allowed to be.

c. When used by an individual in possession or control of a dwelling, place of work, motor vehicle, or an occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01, or by an individual who is licensed or privileged to be there, if the force is necessary to prevent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, or a felony involving violence upon or in the dwelling, place of work, motor vehicle or occupied motor home or travel trailer, and the use of force other than deadly force for these purposes would expose any individual to substantial danger of serious bodily injury.

(…)


12.1-05-07.1. Use of deadly force – Presumption of fear of death or serious bodily

injury.

1. An individual is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury to that individual or another when using deadly force if:

a. The individual against whom the deadly force was used was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered and remains within a dwelling, place of work, or occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01, or if the individual had removed or was attempting to remove another against that individual’s will from the dwelling, place of work, or occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01; and

b. The individual who uses deadly force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred.

2. The presumption in subsection 1 may be rebutted by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual who used the deadly force did not have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury to that individual or another.

3. The presumption in subsection 1 does not apply if the court finds that any of the following have occurred:

a. The individual against whom the deadly force is used has the right to be in or is a lawful resident of the dwelling, place of work, or occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01, including an owner, lessee, or titleholder, and there is not a temporary or permanent domestic violence protection order or any other order of no contact against that individual;

b. The individual removed or sought to be removed is a child or grandchild, or is otherwise in the lawful custody or under the lawful guardianship of, the individual against whom the deadly force is used;

c. The individual who uses deadly force is engaged in the commission of a crime or is using the dwelling, place of work, or occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01 to further the commission of a crime; or

d. The individual against whom the deadly force is used is a law enforcement officer who enters or attempts to enter a dwelling, place of work, or occupied motor home or travel trailer as defined in section 39-01-01 in the performance of official duties and the officer provided identification, if required, in accordance with any applicable law or warrant from a court, or if the individual using force knew or reasonably should have known that the individual entering or attempting to enter was a law enforcement officer.


12.1-05-07.2. Immunity from civil liability for justifiable use of force.

1. An individual who uses force as permitted under this chapter is immune from civil liability for the use of the force to the individual against whom force was used or to that individual’s estate unless that individual is a law enforcement officer who was acting in the performance of official duties and the officer provided identification, if required, in accordance with any applicable law or warrant from a court, or if the individual using force knew or reasonably should have known that the individual was a law enforcement officer.

2. The court shall award loss of income, reasonable attorney’s fees, court costs and disbursements incurred by the defendant in defense of any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant is immune from civil liability as provided in subsection 1.


12.1-05-10. Duress.

1. In a prosecution for any offense, it is an affirmative defense that the actor engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was compelled to do so by threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury to himself or to another. In a prosecution for an offense which does not constitute a felony, it is an affirmative defense that the actor engaged in the proscribed conduct because he was compelled to do so by force or threat of force. Compulsion within the meaning of this section exists only if the force, threat, or circumstances are such as would render a person of reasonable firmness incapable of resisting the pressure.

2. The defense defined in this section is not available to a person who, by voluntarily entering into a criminal enterprise, or otherwise, willfully placed himself in a situation in which it was foreseeable that he would be subjected to duress. The defense is also unavailable if he was negligent in placing himself in such a situation, whenever negligence suffices to establish culpability for the offense charged.

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