A Lose-Lose Situation for “Felonious” Defendants Who Act in Self-Defense

I previously wrote here about the statutory felony disqualification for self-defense in North Carolina, adopted in 2011 by the General Assembly alongside expanded castle protections and clearer stand-your-ground rights for law-abiding citizens. The felony disqualification, in G.S. 14-51.4, states that a person loses the right of self-defense if he or she “[w]as attempting to commit, committing, or escaping after the commission of a felony.” A literal interpretation of the provision places “felonious” defendants in a lose-lose situation: if they defend themselves, they can be prosecuted for their use of force even if the force is otherwise permissible; if they don’t defend themselves, they could suffer injury or even death. In my earlier blog post, I suggested that the felony disqualification may include a “nexus” requirement—that is, that the disqualification applies only if the defendant’s felony in some way creates or contributes to the assault on the defendant and the resulting need for the defendant’s use of force. The Court of Appeals in the recent case of State v. Crump took a literal approach, appearing to make the felony disqualification an absolute bar to self-defense if the defendant contemporaneously engages in a felony.

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