Criminal Law
What Happens If You Kill Someone in Self-Defense in New York?

What Happens If You Kill Someone in Self-Defense in New York?

On Behalf of vitalianolaw | Nov 11, 2023 |

Crime rates in New York are known to be significantly higher than in other areas of the country. With a higher risk of potential criminal action, it can leave many people wondering what would happen if they significantly injure or kill someone while defending themselves. There is a fine line between what is considered defending oneself and what is thought to be another crime taking place. A self-defense lawyer can help you with a claim involving self-defense.

At The Vitaliano Law Firm, we want to help you understand the difference so that you can feel safe in knowing the legal ways of protecting yourself, particularly if it means you may take the life of another individual.

Duty to Retreat

There are many states that implement a “Stand Your Ground” law that allows an individual to justifiably respond to criminal action against them by confronting their attacker at the moment with whatever reasonable means is necessary to protect themselves. However, New York is not a state with that law in place. New York enacts a “duty to retreat,” which means if a person is attacked, they must make a reasonable attempt to flee.

If, however, the victim is unable to flee their attacker in the midst of a robbery, then they are allowed to defend themselves in a reasonable manner so as to end the attack. The only exception to the “duty to retreat” law is if the attack occurs within one’s own home. Under the Castle Doctrine, individuals are legally allowed to defend themselves within their own homes. The threat from the attacker must, however, be imminent to pose physical harm.

Self-Defense Involving Lethal Force

Determining if lethal force is necessary in self-defense can be a difficult line, and it is often blurred. The amount of force necessary to defend oneself can be subjective. The amount of force necessary to defend oneself must be considered reasonable by others in the same situation. If, for example, you are cornered in an alley with nowhere to go and are being attacked, the amount of force necessary to defend yourself may be greater than if you are on the open street.

However, if you brandish a firearm at an individual who has broken into your home and they turn to leave, and you fire, that would not be considered self-defense because the threat from the intruder was already negated as they were already leaving the premises. In order to claim self-defense was used, it is generally accepted that the amount of force used against the attacker matched the threat of force from the attacker.

Deadly force is an intentional decision. There are cases where nonlethal force is used but results in death. For instance, if a person is attacked on a set of stairs and is simply kicking or punching their attacker, who then falls backward and receives lethal injuries, the lethal force was not intentional.

If your use of deadly force is not justified, you could face charges of homicide, manslaughter, or murder.

Civilian Arrests

As a part of self-defense, civilians in New York are legally allowed to make an arrest if they are witnesses to a crime. When detaining the would-be criminal, they are allowed to use whatever force is reasonably necessary, but this does not generally include the use of deadly force. However, in these situations, the civilian enacting this right must be able to show that the crime actually took place and that they are not just going on a hunch.

There are, however, exceptions to this rule. If the person making the arrest is under the belief there is an endangerment to the life of others, such as kidnapping, sexual assault including forceable rape, manslaughter, murder, or other such acts that could cause the death of another individual, then deadly force may be justifiable, and the arresting civilian may be able to prove it was necessary.


Q: Can You Fight in Self-Defense?

A: Ask questions that help you determine the attorney’s experience level, availability to handle your case, and the defense strategy they intend to employ on your behalf. You should also find out how to stay in touch with the attorney as your case unfolds and how they bill their services.

Q: Can a Criminal Lawyer Help You Stay Out of Jail?

A: Self-defense is allowable if you are attacked or are trying to prevent harm to another individual. The amount of force used in defending oneself must be considered reasonable and must match the threat of the danger one faces. If lethal force is used to defend oneself, it must be shown that they were met with the threat of death themselves.

Q: How Do You Defend Yourself if Someone Attacks You?

A: In New York, the law states that you must first apply a “duty to retreat.” This states that if available, you must first safely leave the area and report the crime to the police. If you are unable to do so, or the attack happens in your home, you have a right to reasonably defend yourself by matching the force of the attack.

Q: Who Has the Burden of Proof for Self-Defense in New York?

A: If you are charged with a crime for enacting self-defense, then it is treated as any other crime, which means that the prosecutor has an obligation to prove you are guilty. When self-defense is involved, the prosecutor must prove that the actions were not reasonable and, thereby, the accused acted criminally. If accused of a crime, your attorney will help guide you through defending yourself and showing your actions may have been justified.

Q: What Is the Necessity Defense in NY?

A: The necessity defense is similar to self-defense in that a person who may be accused of a crime states that the commission of the crime was the only option available to help protect themselves or others from harm. If proven, this defense essentially excuses the criminal act of the accused as it is deemed justified.

Staten Island Self-Defense Attorney

Self-defense resulting in the death of another can be heartbreaking, nerve-racking, and traumatizing. However, understanding that it may have been necessary to protect the life of oneself or others can bring some solace. If you or someone you know is involved in a case of self-defense that has resulted in the death of another, get the legal advice you need to protect yourself. Contact The Vitaliano Law Firm today.