I’m here today to talk to you about self-defense or use of force and deadly force under New Jersey law.


You see, self-defense under New Jersey law is known as “justification,” and it means justification for the use of force and/or deadly force. So, what’s the difference? Deadly force means purposely firing a firearm in the direction of another at their vehicle, building, or structure where that other person is believed to be. A threat to cause serious bodily harm or death by producing a weapon: that’s a use of force. When it comes to firearms, whether or not you fire is the distinction between force and deadly force.


So, when can you use “force” for self-defense? Well, force is justifiable for the protection of a person when one reasonably believes that such force is immediately necessary for protecting oneself from the unlawful use of force by another person.

There are limitations as to when you can use force:

  • You can’t use force to resist arrest;
  • You can’t use force to resist somebody who is a possessor or occupier of a property and has a claim of right over that property; and
  • You can’t use force if you don’t reasonably believe that the use of such force is necessary to protect yourself from death or serious bodily injury.


Now compare that to when you can use deadly force. Well, deadly force is justifiable if you reasonably believe that such force is necessary to protect yourself against death or serious bodily injury. But even if you believe that, you cannot use deadly force if:

  • You’ve provoked the use of force against you;
  • You can surrender possession of some item or thing to the person asserting a claim or right to it;
  • You can comply with a demand not to do something that you have no obligation to do; or
  • You can avoid using force by retreating—except in your home.

As long as that’s your dwelling and you’re not the initial aggressor, or it’s not another person who lives with you, you have no duty to retreat in your home. So, as you can see, it’s a bit complicated for when you can and can’t use force or deadly force, but it’s important to know these rules.

If you have any more questions about the use of force in self-defense, feel free to contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.