JurisdictionNorth Carolina

§18.03. Deadly Force:"Imperfect" Self-Defense Claims

In general, the defense of self-defense is a full defense, resulting in exoneration of the person acting in self-protection. The traditional common law rule is that if any of the elements of the defense are missing, the defense is wholly unavailable to a defendant,86 and thus the defendant may be convicted of murder. Various states, however, now recognize a so-called "imperfect" defense of self-defense to murder, which results in conviction for manslaughter.

There are two versions of imperfect self-defense. First, as discussed earlier, a nondeadly aggressor who is the victim of a deadly response must retreat to any known place of complete safety before using deadly force;87 if he fails to do so, he is typically subject to murder prosecution, but in some jurisdictions he is considered entitled to an "imperfect" form of self-defense and, therefore, guilty only of manslaughter.

Second, many states now provide by case law88 or statute89 that one who kills another because he unreasonably believes that the factual circumstances justify the killing is guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder. That is, D is guilty of manslaughter if he kills V because: (1) D unreasonably believes that V is about to use deadly force although, in fact, V intends no harm or intends only nondeadly harm; or (2) V intends to use deadly force, but D fails to realize, as a reasonable person, that deadly force is unnecessary. In short, "[i]mperfect self-defense consists of the same elements [as "perfect" self-defense], except that the defendant need not have had an objectively reasonable belief that he was in . . . imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm . . . , requiring the use of deadly force."90



[86] . State v. Morris, 22 So. 3d 1002, 1012 (La. Ct. App. 2009) (applying the all-or-nothing rule).

[87] . E.g., People v. Amos, 414 N.W.2d 147, 150 (Mich. Ct. App. 1987); State v. McAvoy, 417 S.E.2d 489, 497 (N.C. 1992). See § 18.02[B][2][b], supra.

[88] . E.g., In re Christian S., 872 P.2d 574, 575 (Cal. 1994); Wilson v. State, 7 A.3d 197, 204 (Md. 2010); Young v. State, 99 So. 3d 159, 165 (Miss. 2012); Commonwealth v. Sepulveda, 55 A.3d 1108, 1124-25 (Pa. 2012).

[89] . E.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §...

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