In New Mexico, the use of force and deadly force may be legally justified under certain circumstances. This article will first address the use of non-deadly force in self-defense, and then cover the issue of when the use of deadly force may be justified.
Justification for the use of non-deadly force requires the following:
- There was an appearance of immediate danger of bodily harm to you or another as a result of an unlawful act;
- You were, in fact, put in fear of immediate bodily harm to yourself or another, and used non-deadly force because of that fear;
- You used an amount of force that you believed was reasonable and necessary to prevent the bodily harm; and
- The apparent danger would have caused a reasonable person in the same circumstances to act as you did.
Importantly, if your use of non-deadly force in self-defense causes death or great bodily harm, the force used by you must have been force that ordinarily would not create a substantial risk of death or great bodily harm. NM UJI 14-5181–14-5182.
There are a couple of other key points to remember regarding the use of force. Significantly, once an individual becomes justified to use force, the right to use force may end during the encounter if the danger to the individual ceases or the threat is disabled. NM UJI 14-5171. As a result, if the initial aggressor ceases the aggression—for example, by fleeing or being knocked unconscious—your right to use force ceases.
In that case, should you continue to use force, you may be deemed the aggressor. Moreover, if you are the initial aggressor using non-deadly force, you cannot claim self-defense to justify your use of force, unless you first attempt to stop the fight, or unless the other person begins to use an unreasonable amount of force, such as deadly force. NM UJI 14-5171 Committee Commentary See State v. Chavez, 1983-NMSC-037, ¶ 6, 99 N.M. 609, 661 P.2d 887; UJI 14-5191 NMRA; UJI 5191A NMRA.
The Use of Deadly Force
What happens if you find yourself in a situation where you used deadly force against a person in self-defense or in defense of another? Generally, for you to be legally justified in the use of deadly force, you will need to show that:
- There was an appearance of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to you or another as a result of the threat from the perpetrator;
- You were, in fact, put in fear by the apparent danger of immediate death or great bodily harm to yourself or another, and killed the perpetrator because of that fear; and
- A reasonable person in the same circumstances would have acted as you did. NM UJI 14-5171, 5172.
New Mexico’s Castle Doctrine, NM UJI 14-5170–5172, broadens the circumstance under which you may be justified in your use of deadly force to protect yourself or others. Under the law, you are justified in the use of deadly force against another person in your habitation if:
- The place where the killing occurred was being used as your dwelling;
- It appeared to you that the commission of a violent felony was immediately at hand, and that it was necessary to kill the intruder to prevent the commission of the violent felony; and
- A reasonable person in the same circumstances as you would have acted the same way that you did. NMJI 14-5170.
Significantly, if the act of self-defense occurred in your habitation, rather than being required to show an appearance of immediate danger of death or great bodily injury, you only need to show that the commission of a violent felony by the perpetrator was immediately at hand.
Remember that it will be a jury deciding whether your use of force was justified. Unfortunately, this means that those deciding whether your use of force was appropriate have the opportunity to look back at your actions and make determinations as to what they feel you should have done, essentially engaging in “Monday morning quarterbacking.” That is why it is so important to be aware of the law, keep a level head, and only use the appropriate amount of force when necessary.
If you have any questions about self-defense laws in New Mexico, contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak with your Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.