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    Self-Defense Immunity Laws: Which States Protect You Best?

    Self-Defense Immunity Laws: Which States Protect You Best?

    Now that the Zimmerman criminal trial has concluded, much attention has focused on the prospects for Zimmerman seeking protection under Florida’s self-defense immunity statute from any possible civil action against him.

    Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 7.55.54 AM

    Florida’s statute 776.032, is among the broader self-defense immunity statutes, in that it possesses all four qualities of an optimal statute of this type.

    First, it is not limited to particular settings or circumstances (e.g., such as to self-defense encounters in and around one’s home).

    Second, it prohibits even the arrest of the person who acted in self-defense, in the absence of probable cause for such arrest.

    Third, it immunizes against criminal as well as civil liability.

    And, fourth, it provides for the defendant who successfully obtains immunity to recover all reasonable legal expenses (and, in the case of Florida, even compensation for lost income) from the plaintiff.

    Fully 32 states provide some degree of limitation of liability for the individual who has genuinely acted in self-defense, but there is considerable variety in terms of the scope and manner of protection provided.

    Property-centered Immunity

    Five states provide self-defense immunity only in the context of a defense of dwelling. Conceptually, this is very similar to the Castle Doctrine, in which you are relieved of any generalized duty to retreat if you are defending yourself in your home. These states include Colorado, Georgia, Hawai’i, Maryland, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

    No Arrest In Absence of Probable Cause

    Three states provide that the person who acted in claimed self-defense may not even be arrested unless their exists probably cause to believe that their use of force was not legitimate self-defense. As a practical matter, the use of deadly force in self-defense routinely results in the arrest of the person who used that force. Typically the person who used the force either clams up when confronted by investigating officers, or they admit to the use of force but claim it was done in self-defense. All this in the context of a “victim” who is either complaining bitterly about a gun having been pointed at him, or perhaps bleeding out in the street.

    Under these circumstances the officers usually conclude that there is at least probable cause that there exists reasonable evidence in support of a potential crime having been committed, and an arrest is made. Whether the act was done in self-defense is, from the officer’s perspective, to be determined by others further down the criminal justice “pipeline”. (For a detailed explanation of the criminal justice “pipeline” and what to expect at each step of that pipeline, see Chapter 1, “Criminal Law: What to Expect,” in “The Law of Self Defense.”).

    The five states that prohibit arrest unless there is probably cause that the use of force was not done in legitimate self defense–Alabama, Florida, Kansas,  Kentucky, and Oklahoma–essentially require that the police look at both sides of the question–both the use of force as a potential crime and the justification of self-defense.

    Immunity Protection from Both Criminal and Civil Liability

    Ten states provide immunity protection against criminal prosecution as well as civil law suits. These include: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming. Note, however, that where a state limits the scope of its self-defense immunity statute generally–as Colorado limits its statute to use of force around one’s home–this limitation applies in the context of both criminal and civil liability.

    Recovery of Attorneys Fees, Trial Expenses If Sued Anyway

    If a person who used force in self-defense is nevertheless sued, and they successfully argue their claim to self-defense immunity at trial, the party suing them is subject to having to pay the defender’s attorney’s fees and other legal expenses. This rule applies in sixteen states, including Alaska, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina,  Tennessee, Wyoming.

    In fifteen of those states the statute provides that the court “shall” award such expenses where the defendant has successfully argued self-defense immunity. This gratifyingly takes the reimbursement of these expenses out of the hands of the trial court’s discretion. In Maryland, however, the statute only provides that the court “may” order the reimbursement of such expenses.

    Odd Twists

    I did come across a couple of odd twists in looking at the various states’ self-defense immunity statutes, and thought I share a couple with you.

    First, Delaware appears to provide for immunity for the use of force in protection of property, but not for the use of force in self-defense. Indeed, the statute specifically references defense of another person’s property. My sense is that this statute was actually written to protect persons such as armed guards against civil liability for their use of force against robbers. Perhaps a lawyer from Delaware could provide greater context.

    Second, New Jersey’s self-defense immunity law is written specific within the context of the use of a “chemical substance in self-defense” . . . and that’s it. So, if you use pepper spray or mace or something equivalent in legitimate self-defense, you seem to fall under the protection of the statute. Any other means of self-defense, whether deadly or non-deadly, would seem to place you outside that umbrella of protection.

    Self-Defense Immunity Statutes of the Various United States

    Added:  Alabama
    13A-3-23 Use of force in defense of a person.


    09.65.330. Immunity: Use of defensive force.

    AZ 13-413. No civil liability for justified conduct

    16-120-303. Attempting to protect persons during commission of a felony.
    (NOTE: Was renumbered from 5-2-601 in 2016.)

    18-1-704.5. Use of deadly physical force against an intruder

    466. Justification — Use of force for the protection of property.

    FL 776.032 Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force.

    51-11-9. Immunity from civil liability for threat or use of force in defense of habitation

    16-3-24.2. Immunity from prosecution; exception

    663-1.57. Owner to felon; limited liability

    6-808. Civil immunity for self-defense

    7-1. Use of force in defense of person.

    7-2. Use of force in defense of dwelling.

    7-3. Use of force in defense of other property.

    707.6 Civil liability.

    21-5231. Same; immunity from prosecution or liability; investigation.

    503.085 Justification and criminal and civil immunity for use of permitted force

    2800.19. Limitation of liability for use of force in defense of certain crimes

    5-808 – Civil immunity for defense of dwelling or place of business.

    600.2922b Use of deadly force or other than deadly force by individual in self-defense; immunity from civil liability.

    600.2922c Individual sued for using deadly force or force other than deadly force; award of attorney fees and costs; conditions.

    563.074. Justification as an absolute defense, when.

    27-1-722. Civil damages immunity for injury caused by legal use of force.

    41.095. Presumption that person using deadly force against intruder in person’s residence, transient lodging or motor vehicle has reasonable fear of death or bodily injury; person who uses deadly force is immune from civil liability under certain circumstances; definitions.

    New Hampshire
    627:1-a Civil Immunity.

    New Jersey
    2A:62A-20. Immunity from civil liability for use of chemical substance for self-defense.

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

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

    2305.40 Owner, lessee, or renter of real property not liable to trespasser.
    Added: 2307.60 Civil action for damages for criminal act.

    Added: 21-1289.25 Physical or deadly force against intruder

    8340.2 Civil immunity for use of force

    South Carolina
    16-11-450. Immunity from criminal prosecution and civil actions; law enforcement officer exception; costs.

    39-11-622. Justification for use of force — Exceptions — Immunity from civil liability.

    83.001. Civil immunity.

    Added: 78B-3-110. Defense to civil action for damages resulting from commission of crime.

    (Note: This is a reimbursement provision, not a true immunity provision, posted simply FYI.)
    Added: 9A.16.110. Defending against violent crime — reimbursement.

    West Virginia
    (Note: Self-defense as “full and complete civil defense,” but unclear if functions as pre-trial immunity.)
    Added: §55-7-22. Civil relief for persons resisting certain criminal activities.

    895.62  Use of force in response to unlawful and forcible entry into a dwelling, motor vehicle, or place of business; civil liability immunity.

    6-1-204. Immunity from civil action for justifiable use of force; attorney fees.

    6-2-602. Use of force in self defense; no duty to retreat.


    (Note: This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the state of self-defense in immunity law in Ohio, which does not appear limited to acts of self-defense around one’s home as previously reported. Thanks to Peter Bossley for the insight–your complimentary copy of “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition” goes in the mail tomorrow, Peter.)

    (Note: This post was updated to include Oklahoma. Thanks to “justanokie” in comments for the heads-up.)

    (Note: This post was updated to include Washington. Thanks to “Skookum” in comments for the heads-up.)

    (Note: This post was updated to include Alabama. Thanks to “inquisitivemind” in comments for the heads-up.)

    (Note: This post was updated to include Georgia criminal immunity. Thanks to “Mac” for the heads-up.)

    (Note: This post was updated to include Nevada civil immunity. Thanks to “Mac” for the heads-up.)

    (Note: This post was updated to reflect that Washington provides neither civil nor criminal immunity, but does provide for state reimbursement of legal expenses incurred by a defendant in a criminal prosecution where the defendant has been acquitted and the jury has made a special finding that the defendant’s use-of-force was lawful self-defense.  See  9A.16.110. Defending against violent crime — reimbursement.) [AFB: 2/28/18]

    (Note: This post was updated to reflect that Wyoming clarified it’s civil immunity procedure and provided for award of legal expenses, and also adopted criminal self-defense immunity per § 6-2-202, all effective July 1, 2018). [AFB: 6/17/18]

    (Note: This post was updated to include Utah civil immunity.) [6/26/18]

    (Note: This post was updated to include West Virginia statutory provision for self-defense as “full and complete civil defense”.) [7/1/18]

    Attorney Andrew F. Branca and Law of Self Defense LLC provide legal education and services in use-of-force law.  Much free and premium content can be found at the Law of Self Defense Patreon page, as well as the free weekly Law of Self Defense Show.



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    […] I see Andrew Branca has an discussion of self defense laws at Professor William Jacobson’s Legal Insurrection blog. […]

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