May 31, 2016 Articles

Nonconfrontational Self-Defense and the Imminent Threat Requirement

What constitutes an imminent threat for self-defense purposes?

By Farrah Champagne

The right to kill another person in self-defense is based on the necessity of killing an aggressor to save oneself from imminent death or great bodily harm. State v. Gappins, 320 N.C. 64, 357 (1987). Self-preservation is an inherent right of law under such circumstances. State v. Holland, 193 N.C. 713, 718 (1927). The issue of self-defense is significantly practical as it concerns battered women, where wives defend killing their abusive husbands under nonconfrontational circumstances, such as while he is asleep, basing their reasoning on the fact that waiting until the danger was imminent would not prevent future attacks.

Normally, a victim of domestic violence is expected to contact authorities to assist in preventing abuse, but in some situations, the victim seeks help to no avail. Thus, many argue that the imminence requirement under the traditional law of self-defense should be relaxed and that the focus should be on whether force is needed to prevent future attacks. See State v. Norman, 378 S.E.2d 8, 19 (N.C. 1989). Others support the imminence requirement and oppose any further expansion of the requirement. Richard A. Rosen, “On Self-Defense, Imminence, and Women Who Kill Their Batterers,” 71 N.C. L. Rev. 371, 380 (1993).

I do not attempt to resolve every issue related to self-defense and the imminence requirement. I do, however, attempt to provide reasoning and a definitive answer regarding the legality of the killing of Mr. Norman in the case State v. Norman, 378 S.E.2d 8, 19 (N.C. 1989). The circumstances surrounding Norman’s demise bring sharply into focus domestic violence victims’ paradigm limits as a framework for the study of nonconfrontational self-defense and the imminent threat requirement.

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