Self-Defense or Assault? What New Mexico Law Says 

If you have ever been in or witnessed a fight or altercation, you may have wondered how the law would view the situation. You’re not alone; plenty of people get into these situations daily not knowing who would be seen as the aggressor. 

Too often, people are entangled in the legal system without knowing a lick of law. Not surprisingly, they tend to get into more trouble than probably had to occur. Hopefully, this blog can help shed some light on New Mexico law regarding self-defense and assault & battery. 

A Primer On Self-Defense 

In New Mexico, as in many other states, citizens are not required to retreat if they feel they are under an immediate threat to their well-being. Instead, citizens have the right to defend themselves under certain circumstances. The State of New Mexico separates its self-defense law into two basic parts: non-deadly force and deadly force. 

According to New Mexico law, you need to meet the following criteria to legally use non-deadly force in self-defense: 

  • There was an appearance of immediate danger of bodily harm to you or another as a result of an unlawful act;
  • You were, in fact, put in fear of immediate bodily harm to yourself or another, and used non-deadly force because of that fear;
  • You used an amount of force that you believed was reasonable and necessary to prevent the bodily harm; and
  • The apparent danger would have caused a reasonable person in the same circumstances to act as you did.

For deadly force, the criteria will change slightly: 

  • There was an appearance of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to you or another as a result of the threat from the perpetrator;
  • You were, in fact, put in fear by the apparent danger of immediate death or great bodily harm to yourself or another, and killed the perpetrator because of that fear; and
  • A reasonable person in the same circumstances would have acted as you did. 

Basically, you need to have believed yourself to be in danger and acted with an appropriate amount of force. The law determining that a “reasonable person” must have acted the same way leaves it open to an incredible amount of interpretation. Nonetheless, self-defense in New Mexico works very similarly to other states. 

Assault & Battery in New Mexico

Assault and battery in New Mexico, much like with self-defense, is similar to most other states. Assault is defined as an attempt to commit a physical attack or as intentional threats, words, or actions that cause a person to feel afraid of impending violence. Many assault charges never involve any physical violence, only threats. 

Battery in New Mexico is defined as the unlawful, intentional touching or application of force to the person of another when done in a rude, insolent, or angry manner. Battery can take many forms, but this is the basic definition common to most varieties of battery. 

The backbone of both assault & battery is intent and action. Thus, understanding the sequence of events and mind-state of all involved is necessary for the court to rule in someone’s favor. 

Potential Gray Areas 

Looking at what the law says, it seems like it should be cut and dry. However, it can be a contentious issue depending on the case. How? Let’s dive deeper into the law. 

For all laws, they tend to fall apart when there are subjective or fuzzy elements in the language. In the self-defense law, we see weak points in the idea of a “reasonable person” and in the appearance and actual nature of danger. If the parties involved don’t agree on the situation, it can make for a much more difficult case. 

The concept of a “reasonable person” is a legal term often used in matters of tort and personal law. It is a legal fiction used to determine if someone acted outside what would be normal behavior from a law-abiding citizen. However, it is unavoidably subjective, leading to inconsistent legal outcomes. 

This fuzziness and subjectivity are the arena of the judge, jury, and legal counsel. Together, a picture and frame for your case will be built and an objective ruling is determined from all legally-relevant factors. This is why competent legal counsel is so important for each case.

Tips For Avoiding Legal Trouble 

Knowing the law is important, but the best way to not get into legal trouble is to never be in a situation that the law may be required for. If you foresee a situation where violence may be threatened or committed, it’s best to simply walk away. 

If that much can’t be done, then you’ll want to document everything that happened leading up to and during your encounter. Gathering eyewitnesses that can provide more evidence to corroborate your accounts will also be incredibly useful. Finally, obtaining legal counsel that is well-versed in the law is crucial to your case. Poor legal counsel could mean a worse overall outcome. 

Trust The Law Office of W. Shane Jennings! 

In most cases, the line between self-defense and assault and battery is clear. However, regardless of how your particular case is shaped, you’ll want competent legal counsel by your side. For years, our legal team has defended the rights of citizens in New Mexico. Contact us today or visit our website to schedule your consultation! 


Posted in Criminal Defense Lawyer, Hobbs, New Mexico.

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