What is Defense of Property in New Jersey?
The law of defense of property in New Jersey justifies a defendant's use of force against another person to protect their premises or personal property from immediate danger.
Common scenarios where this defense may apply include home invasions, trespassers on a property, and thefts.
The application of defense of property is more narrow than self-defense or defense of others and the defense isn't available in every state. Where it does apply, the specific elements needed to establish defense of property vary between jurisdictions. Reasonable force is a standard element of defense of property as a defense.
At the Law Offices of Alex Cirocco, our attorneys in New Jersey will review your case, outline your best options, and advocate for your rights and interests. Contact us online or at 973-327-9995 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Where a defendant claims defense of property, their use of force must be reasonable and not excessive. The force is reasonable when another reasonable person in the same circumstances as the defendant would believe the force was necessary to protect the property.
As part of reasonableness, many states require the defendant to attempt to stop the other person, for example, by asking them to leave or yelling at them to stop, before resorting to using force to defend their property.
Lethal and Non-Lethal Force
When it comes to defense of property, the law often distinguishes between lethal (deadly) force and non-lethal (non-deadly) force. Lethal force is any action likely to cause significant bodily harm or death.
In many states, defense of property does not justify the use of lethal force. Although, if the threat of immediate harm extends to a person as well as property, the defendant's use of lethal force in New Jersey may be justified based on self-defense or defense of another.
For example, if a person simply enters the defendant's backyard without permission, it's unlikely the defendant could shoot the trespasser and argue defense of property. However, if an armed person entered the backyard where the defendant's children were playing, the defendant may be justified in using lethal force to defend their children.
Burden of Proof for Defense of Property Claim in New Jersey
Like self-defense and defense of others, defense of property is an affirmative defense. This involves the defendant admitting to the alleged violent act while presenting a legal justification for their actions.
In a criminal case in New Jersey, the prosecution must prove each element of the charge against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. In some states, once a defendant raises defense of property, it continues to be the prosecution's responsibility to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, in other states, if a defendant argues defense of property, the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove it, usually by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. it's more likely to be true than not).
Examples of New Jersey Defense of Property
If a defendant is charged with assault for pushing a trespasser off their property, they may be able to argue defense of property. If the trespasser refused to leave despite being asked to do so and the defendant's actions were reasonable and proportionate, the defendant would not be criminally liable because they were acting in defense of their property.
However, if in the same scenario the defendant pulled out a gun, shooting and wounding the trespasser, it is unlikely the defendant could successfully argue defense of property. Aside from the fact the defendant used lethal force, their actions were not reasonable a reasonable response, nor were they proportionate.
Having someone who knows the law and who has strong defense skills on your side will help make the process go as smoothly as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Alex Cirocco today either online or at 973-327-9995 to schedule a free initial consultation.