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  • What Happens If You Kill Someone in Self-Defense?

    Posted on by JACK MKHITARIAN

    What Happens If You Kill Someone in Self-Defense

    The people of New Mexico have a right to defend themselves or another if their lives or property are threatened. But this right is not absolute. You could face a murder or manslaughter charge if you used deadly force when you were not justified in doing so. 

    Never rely on the police to determine if you acted in self-defense, and if they arrest you, do not talk to anyone until you call the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices. If you used lethal force to defend yourself, contact us immediately. We can discuss what happens if you kill someone in self-defense in detail and begin strategizing your defense right away.

    Can You Go to Jail for Killing Someone in Self-Defense?

    New Mexico law mandates that a person tried for homicide must be acquitted and discharged if the killing was carried out in self-defense. So the question becomes: When can you use lethal force in self-defense in New Mexico?

    New Mexico statutes describe those situations where homicide is justifiable. Those instances include the following:

    • Defending your life, family, or property when necessary or defending yourself or your family from an unlawful act;
    • Defending yourself or another person when you have reasonable grounds to believe that a plan exists to commit a felony or inflict great personal injury against you or another when the danger of that crime being committed is imminent; and
    • Attempting to apprehend a person for committing a felony in your presence, lawfully suppressing a riot, or lawfully keeping the peace. 

    These rules apply to non-law enforcement officers as police operate under a different, specific set of rules.

    Killing Someone in Self-Defense: Stand Your Ground and the Castle Doctrine

    If we cannot feel safe in our homes, then where can we ever feel safe? You have no duty to retreat if someone attacks you. In other words, you can stand your ground and defend yourself when someone attacks you. However, you may only use that amount of force necessary and reasonable under the circumstances to repel the attack. 

    The Castle Doctrine refers to the old English saying that refers to a person’s home as their castle. The Castle Doctrine allows individuals to protect themselves from an attack while in their homes. The privilege does not extend to detached buildings or grounds. 

    The law is clear, but applying the law becomes difficult in real-life situations. For example, you do not have the right to use lethal force to repel a trespasser from your property, but what happens when the trespasser suddenly kicks in your front door? Are you justified in using deadly force, or is the person still merely a trespasser?

    It’s easy to say what you should have done several months down the road when the heat of the moment has passed. Anyone can “Monday morning quarterback” and tell you what you should have done when they are in a calm state with a clear mind. 

    To combat this issue in the jury deliberation room, New Mexico law instructs the jurors to look at the use of deadly force through the eyes of a reasonable person acting under the circumstances as they happened—and not after cool and detached reflection. The jury instructions tell the jurors they can acquit you of the killing if you acted reasonably and you used force that was reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.

    What Does Claiming Self-Defense Mean?

    There may be some cases where the police and prosecutors look at the evidence and decide not to bring charges because they are certain the killing occurred in self-defense. However, the question might not be so clear in other cases.

    The law does not prevent the prosecutor from charging you if they have probable cause to believe the killing was not justified. Some prosecutors take the stance that a jury should decide whether or not you acted in self-defense. In that case, your lawyer from the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices will prepare a thorough defense and get ready to protect your freedom by taking your case to a jury at trial.

    The Burden of Proof in a Self-Defense Case

    The prosecutor has the burden to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You do not have a burden to prove your innocence. However, you must provide some evidence to convince the judge to give the jury a self-defense instruction. The judge must give the instruction if the evidence tends to show that you were in immediate danger of death or great bodily harm, that you were in fear, and that a reasonable person would have acted the same way. The judge must give the instruction even if your testimony is the only evidence of self-defense. 

    The prosecutor has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not entitled to use self-defense under the circumstances. One way the prosecution could do that is by showing that you were the first aggressor. Starting a fight and ending it with a gunshot may or may not be self-defense, depending on all the circumstances. Even if the evidence shows you acted first, you can use lethal force to defend yourself if you ended the fight and clearly announced that you withdrew or the other person escalated the incident by using excessive force against you. For example, suppose you threw the first punch in a bar brawl, but the other guy pulled out a knife and tried to stab you, so you shot him. In this case, you might have a good self-defense claim despite the fact that you were the initial aggressor.

    How Can the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices Help You with Your Self-Defense Claim?

    For almost 25 years, we here at the New Mexico Criminal Law Office have devoted our careers to defending our clients vigorously. We use bold and cutting-edge strategies to give our clients the best chance of avoiding the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction.

    We give each client our undivided attention to ensure we protect all of your substantive and procedural rights. Through our hard work and track record of success, we have developed a sterling reputation with the bench and bar. Our reputation gives you instant credibility when we represent you. Contact us today for a free consultation.