Self-Defense In New Hampshire

One of those most common terms thrown around in the legal world is “self-defense” The definition of self-defense, how and when that definition can be influenced, and the nuances of defending someone claiming self-defense are vast. It’s important that anyone claiming “self-defense” understand what the self-defense laws are in New Hampshire and what the likelihood of their claim being given credence is.

What is self-defense?

Self-defense is a term you hear in the news a lot, but it’s not as cut and dry as the media makes it out to be. We often see it linked to high profile homicide or assault cases.  According to the dictionary, self-defense is, “the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.”

In New Hampshire, self-defense is defined in RSA 627:4. This law says that when a person is faced with what he “reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful, non-deadly force” then he may use non-deadly force to defend himself or a third-party.

There are many things in the definition of self-defense that make it more of a gray area. Reasonable force is one of those things.

Does “stand your ground” count as self-defense?

Stand Your Ground laws came into the spotlight with the Trayvon Martin case in 2012, although the laws have existed long before then. New Hampshire is the only New England state with a “stand your ground” law. A stand-your-ground law provides that people may use deadly force when they reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend against certain violent crimes. Stand your ground laws do not require people to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense, as long they are in a place where they are lawfully present such as their home.

As such, New Hampshire’s stand your ground law does count as self-defense as long as it is proven that you “reasonably believed” that you were in danger from a violent crime, such as an assault.

Proving self-defense

Successfully proving self-defense requires that four elements be proven. The first is that a defendant must prove that they were attacked without provocation. Second, the threat of death or injury must be proven imminent. Third, the type of force used as self-defense should be proven as objectively reasonable given the circumstances. And finally, the defendant must show that they had an objectively reasonable fear that they were going to be injured or killed without the use of self-defense. The Model Penal Code defines self-defense in § 3.04(1) as “justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.”

When it comes to proving self-defense, it takes an experienced attorney, who understands the requirements and how to be present your case to a judge and jury. One wrong move, one word misspoken and it could blow your entire case. 

Excessive Force Exception

The excessive force exemption means that in some jurisdictions a person cannot respond to the defendant’s attack using excessive force under the circumstances. If a person initiates an attack without deadly force then an individual cannot use deadly force in response. Essentially, a person needs to respond with equitable force.

Withdrawal Exception

A person can also be the initial aggressor and use force in self-defense if the defendant withdraws and clearly communicates the withdrawal. If a person who is being attacked in such a jurisdiction continues to use force after the defendant withdraws instead of notifying law enforcement or retreating, then the defendant is eligible to use force in the circumstances.

If you’re in need of an attorney who understands the self-defense laws in NH and will work to get you the most favorable outcome possible, contact our New Hampshire defense attorneys. We’ve helped thousands of clients understand their case and come to resolution. We’d be happy to provide a free consultation, get an understanding of your case, and advise you on the best next steps.


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