South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Deadly Force May Be Met with Deadly Force in Self-Defense

Appeals court held that a person confronted with deadly force has the right to use deadly force in self-defense. In such situation, where the party does not initiate the contact and has a right to be in the location involved, there is no duty to retreat from the party that imposes the threat.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Assault; Deadly Force; Self-Defense; Duty to Retreat; Use of Alcohol

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Beal paid McIver $50 a week to rent a room in a mobile home owned and occupied by McIver. The two were drinking beer when an argument erupted. McIver told Beal to get out, but he refused. McIver went across the street to call the police. Beal knew he was doing that and gathered his belongings to leave. As he prepared to exit, McIver returned and confronted him with a pitchfork. He told Beal not to leave before the police arrived. Beal grabbed a machete and the two fought, using the pitchfork and machete. Beal knocked McIver down, then ran out of the house, but tripped and fell. McIver came at him with the pitchfork again, but the handle broke. The police arrived and arrested Beal, who was charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The jury found him guilty of the felony of assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 37 to 54 months in prison. Beal appealed.


Reversed and remanded for new trial. Beal had the right to leave the home. Any attempt by McIver to hold him prisoner under the threat of being stabbed by a pitchfork amounted to a show of deadly force which could be met with deadly force in self-defense. Beal was placed in reasonable fear of imminent death or serious bodily harm by McIver. Detention by a citizen of an individual suspected of criminal activity is allowed in limited situations, but no detention is allowed where the detaining citizen had no reason to believe a crime has been committed. Beal had no duty to retreat as he was a lawful occupant of the home, and he was not responsible for initiating the deadly force.


State v. Beal, ---S.E.2d--- (2007 WL 3431, Ct. App., N.C., 2007)

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