Self-Defense Statutes and Case Law By State

The firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP conducted a survey of U.S. states’ approach to self-defense

The firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP conducted a survey of U.S. states’ approach to self-defense laws, including “stand-your-ground” laws.  The goal was for this research to help inform Sanctuary’s analysis of defenses in direct trial proceedings, appeals, and clemency efforts on behalf of women who have been criminally prosecuted for killing their abusers.  We hope it could also help in broader advocacy and lobbying efforts, outside of an individual representation.

We have found this research is of particular interest because:  (i) New York is among the minority of states that impose a duty to retreat in cases of self-defense (11/50); although this duty does not apply when an individual is within their own home and confronting an intruder, victims of domestic violence have faced challenges availing themselves of the self-defense justification when confronting a cohabitant; and (ii) New York’s minority position was recently highlighted when a bodega clerk was charged with second degree murder after defending himself against a violent attack in his store.  The clerk claimed the act was in self-defense, and, following widespread media coverage and vocal public support, including from NYC Mayor Eric Adams, the charges were dropped.  Public reaction to the incident indicates both political and societal appetite for changing New York’s duty to retreat approach.

“Self-Defense by State Summer 2022” is an Excel chart grouping the states by their self-defense approach and detailing relevant statutes or case-law, their applications to particular situations, as well as any context surrounding domestic violence related to the state’s self-defense approach.  Color-coding in the chart draws attention to the end result for a DV victim accused of killing their abuser, and the proximity to NY’s current situation.