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Self-Defense and Standing Your Ground in Maine

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Dec 15, 2023

Self-Defense and Standing Your Ground in Maine

Self Defense and Standing Your Ground Laws in MaineSelf-defense laws in the U.S. are complex, vary from state to state, and are often misunderstood.

“Stand your ground” laws allow an individual to use deadly force in self-defense in public if they reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend against certain violent crimes.

This may apply to certain violent situations in some states—and the “Castle Doctrine” is often cited as justification for using violence when defending a home—but Maine has no “stand your ground” law as such for the defense of a person if a threat is encountered in a public place.

It is essential, therefore, if you are confronted with a violent situation to understand when the use of force (lethal or otherwise) is justified under Maine’s criminal laws.

What is the definition of “self-defense” in Maine?

A person who engages in violent conduct that would otherwise be deemed criminal may argue self-defense under particular circumstances.

These circumstances are defined in the Maine Criminal Code section on physical force in defense of a person, which states the following:

“A person is justified in using a reasonable degree of nondeadly force upon another person in order to defend the person or a 3rd person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful, nondeadly force by such other person, and the person may use a degree of such force that the person reasonably believes to be necessary for such purpose.”

So, a person’s violent actions may be justifiable if threatened by another person, provided the response is reasonable AND in proportion to the threat posed.

Justification for self-defense beyond reasonable doubt

Self-defense is known as a “justification defense.” It must be generated by the evidence available.

At trial, if the defendant is proven to have acted in the manner alleged but the evidence for self-defense is credible and sufficient, the judge will instruct the jury to consider whether the individual was justified to act how he/she did in the circumstances. The verdict will then hinge on this decision.

If the state cannot disprove the claimed justification beyond a reasonable doubt, a not-guilty verdict must be delivered.

Before considering their verdict, jurors are instructed that a person is justified in using deadly force upon another person when:

  1. He reasonably believes that the other person is about to use unlawful, deadly force against him; and
  2. He reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend himself.

A person is never justified in using deadly force if he provokes the encounter leading to the use of deadly force or if he knows that he can retreat from the encounter with complete safety.

Because the evidence generates an issue of whether the defendant acted in self-defense, to support a murder conviction, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that:

  1. With a purpose to cause physical harm to another person, the defendant provoked the encounter, or
  2. The defendant knew he could retreat from the encounter with the deceased in complete safety, or
  3. The defendant knew that his use of deadly force was not necessary to defend himself.

(Source: Maine Jury Instruction Manual (2013 Ed.), Section 6-61. Donald G. Alexander)

“Deadly force,” “reasonably believes” and “retreat in complete safety”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the terms used in the above jury instructions to understand what they mean.

Deadly force

In Maine, deadly force does not require that it causes death. The definition includes force that causes serious bodily injury or an injury that requires at least a period of convalescence.

Reasonably believes

The notion of reasonable belief is key to a self-defense claim. The belief that the other person is about to use unlawful, deadly force against him/her must be founded on the facts. Would a reasonable person faced with the same circumstances have acted in the same way? The use of force due to an irrational fear is not sufficient justification.

So, the jury will need to determine objectively how a reasonable person would act if confronted by the same situation. If the defendant acted unreasonably when faced with the threat posed or used necessary force, the verdict would be guilty.

Retreat in complete safety

If the defendant is proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have had the opportunity to retreat in complete safety but still acted with force, a guilty verdict will be delivered.

This term is used only when the defendant acted in public or on another person’s property. It does not apply in cases of defense of one’s own property (more details below on that).

“Stand your ground” defense in Maine

As we have seen, Maine law explicitly imposes a duty to retreat before resorting to deadly force outside the home.

“Stand your ground” defenses are based on centuries of common-law tradition, whereby an individual who is not engaged in any illegal activity can legally use deadly force in self-defense in public even if a safe retreat is possible or nonlethal force would be enough.

A good example is the Florida “stand your ground” law, which states the following:

“a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

So, there is no duty to retreat in these circumstances. The individual can meet force with force if reasonably believed to be necessary to prevent injury or death to himself or another person or to prevent a forcible felony from being committed.

Such laws currently apply in 28 states but Maine does not follow “stand your ground” laws. The duty to retreat is enshrined in the state’s Criminal Code.

The use of force in defense of premises

Most of what we’ve discussed above relates to the section in the Maine Criminal Code on the use of force in defense of person.

The use of force in defense of premises is treated slightly differently in Maine. Known as the “Castle Doctrine,” the Maine statutes outline several situations that make it justifiable to use either deadly force or non-deadly force to protect your house and premises.

Under these laws, non-deadly force can be used if you reasonably believe it’s necessary to prevent someone from trespassing or about to trespass on your land, private roads, or in any buildings on your land.

The justifiable use of deadly force is restricted to when reasonably necessary to prevent an intruder from committing arson on the property or from committing a crime while inside your home.

In these situations, there is no duty for the homeowner to retreat and so the laws are sometimes confused with “stand your ground” laws. There is a stipulation, however, that deadly force cannot be used against someone inside your own home until you’ve provided an opportunity to stop their criminal activity by demanding they stop what they’re doing and leave the premises.

For help with any criminal charge in Maine, call The Maine Criminal Defense Group at 207-571-8146 for an initial case evaluation.

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