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Mr. Tumelty represented Helena Hendricks, who was charged with first degree murder in Atlantic County Superior Court. The defendant faced a number of additional charges, including armed robbery, conspiracy and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. At the conclusion of a jury trial that lasted three weeks, the defendant was found "not guilty" of all charges.

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Imperfect Self-Defense in New Jersey

Under New Jersey state law, every person has the right to use a reasonable amount of force against another person if they reasonably believe that force is necessary to protect against the unlawful force being used by that other person. This is known as self-defense. Basically, if someone attacks you with a weapon and you believe that your life is in danger, you have the right to defend yourself. You might end up taking the life of your attacker in an effort to save your own life, but the law recognizes that you should not have to face penalties like assault or homicide charges.

The key variable in these situations ends up being whether the force you choose to execute in a self-defense situation is considered reasonable. For instance, it is probably not reasonable for you to shoot somebody who came up and slapped you on the face while you were out and about. Self-defense would not be a viable option under those circumstances.

Gray Areas of Self-Defense: Reducing Murder to Manslaughter in NJ

When it comes down to it, there are also situations that tend to be a little more gray than others, and that is why imperfect defense exists. Imperfect self-defense is a form of partial defense that can negate the element of malice and reduce a murder charge to manslaughter. It typically applies in situations where a person kills someone in self-defense based on an unreasonable belief that they were under threat of imminent death or great bodily injury or that deadly force was necessary to cease the threat.

A situation that exemplifies this type of gray area could be the following: you live alone and hear someone inside your house in the middle of the night. Staying in your bedroom, you listen and hear the person on the other side of the bedroom door making noise and sounding like they are about to enter your room. When the intruder turns the doorknob to open the door, you use your gun and fire at the door, killing the person on the other side.

This does not qualify as true self-defense because at that point there was nothing constituting the reasonable belief that you faced imminent threat of death or great bodily injury before you began shooting. Firing without knowing who was coming through the door or whether they intended harm can make your actions unreasonable.

But this is where imperfect self-defense could apply and could be argued in an attempt to keep you from facing a murder charge. Unfortunately, under New Jersey state law, imperfect self-defense is not recognized. Still, under New Jersey law, that same type of argument can be used for evidence in litigation in an effort to avoid a murder charge. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:3-4, “If there is a rational basis for the jury to find that defendant acted in the honest but unreasonable belief in the necessity to resort to force in self-defense, it could conclude that he/she acted recklessly rather than purposely or knowingly.”

Contact Experienced Atlantic County Criminal Defense Lawyer John Tumelty Now

Even though imperfect self-defense is not technically recognized in New Jersey, an experienced NJ criminal lawyer knows that the same general premise can be used to reduce charges. If you are facing a similar legal situation in Atlantic City, Hammonton, Galloway, or anywhere else in South Jersey, you should contact the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty. Mr. Tumelty will help you with your legal situation, putting his 30-plus years of experience into action. To set up a free consultation, call 609-385-4010 today.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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