Court of Appeals Rules on Pretrial Self-Defense Immunity Hearings

Last month, the Court of Appeals decided State v. Austin, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2021-NCCOA-494 (Sept. 21, 2021), and a summary of the opinion is available here. Austin addressed several noteworthy self-defense issues, including the sufficiency of the state’s evidence to rebut the presumption of reasonable fear under the “castle doctrine” statutes added in 2011 and whether the trial court’s jury instructions on that issue were proper.

But first, the court had to decide whether the statutory language conferring “immunity from liability” meant that the defendant was entitled to have this issue resolved by the judge at a pretrial hearing. That’s a question I’ve been asked fairly often over the past few years, and my sense is that prior to Austin there were divergent practices on this point around the state.

This post takes a closer look at that portion of the court’s opinion, and explores what we now know and what we still don’t.

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