Can you shoot a burglar in NJ? Home break-ins are surging
🚨 NJ is seeing an alarming increase in "occupied" home burglaries
🚨 Police are urging residents not to confront a burglar
🚨 Does NJ law allow you to shoot an intruder?
As New Jersey law enforcement agencies again warn about the dangers of home burglaries, come an even more disturbing alert from Police in South Brunswick.
Burglars are becoming increasingly brazen, leading to an increase in what are called "occupied" home burglaries. Most often, these bad actors are looking for the key fobs to high end vehicles.
Coming home to find you have been burglarized in one thing, to have someone break into your home while you are there is a new level of terrifying.
If someone is stealing something from you, there is no presumption they intend to do you bodily harm. - NJ Civil Rights Attorney Tim Alexander
An alert posted on the South Brunswick website reads: South Brunswick police are especially concerned that these occupied home burglaries could lead to a violent confrontation between a homeowner and a thief.
NJ has more guns
New Jersey has seen a sharp increase in the number of gun permit applications in recent years, meaning more homeowners are armed.
However, if you purchased your gun for home protection, knowing how and when you can use it in self-defense is critical.
Read More: Avoid these common mistakes when applying for a gun permit in New Jersey. Your application will be rejected.
South Brunswick police are strongly urging anyone who finds themselves in this situation, not to resist.
⭕ Do not confront the burglar – your possessions are not worth risking your safety
⭕Do not block the burglar’s exit – they most likely want to escape without causing harm
⭕Keep your cell phone charged and with you at all times, even when within your home
But what if you have a gun in your home? Can you defend your home with a firearm in New Jersey?
The short answer to that question is: probably not. Not in New Jersey.
The only justifiable use of force is to defend yourself or another person against death or serious bodily harm.
Under New Jersey law: You cannot use deadly force to defend property.
While the law does try to spell out what is - and what is not - justified, much of the law is left up to wide interpretation of the statues.
Tim Alexander is a veteran prosecutor and prominent Civil Rights attorney. Alexander is a former detective captain in charge of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Criminal Investigation Section. He is also the former major trial prosecutor for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
If you decide to try and shoot a burglar, the law is not on your side in New Jersey.
"If someone is stealing something from you, there is no presumption they intend to do you bodily harm," Alexander says.
Even if you truly feel threatened, you will likely be charged if you shoot
Samuel “Skip” Reale spent nearly 30 years as a prosecutor, including with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Bureau. Since 2003, Skip as been in private practice, specializing in criminal defense.
Reale cautions: “New Jersey has a very, very different view on a citizen's right to use force to defend either oneself, defend another, or defend property. We have a very restrictive view on that.”
Even if you are rightly defending yourself or a family member or any other person, Reale says the climate in New Jersey will impact the decisions of investigators and law enforcement with regard to how they proceed, “and while in maybe 48 states, you wouldn't get indicted, in New Jersey, you run the serious risk of being charged. Even if common sense says it's a righteous shoot, it's likely you're going to have to go through a court of law.”
Why is that?
Its simple, Reale says, “In New Jersey, we have a presumption of innocence, but we don't have a presumption that you made the right choice.”
“And what we're asking people to do is, is make a split-second decision. It's not even a split second, it is milliseconds. You're processing all that information that you're seeing and what you're hearing, and trying to decide what is it I'm confronting, and what force can I use?”
“And New Jersey is always going to second-guess you in the process.”
Do you have an obligation to warn an intruder before you shoot them?
I asked Alexander about this scenario: You hear somebody downstairs, and you retrieve your weapon.
Do you have the obligation to yell down the stairs and say, get out of my house or I'm going to shoot you?
"No," Alexander says, "You do not have an obligation to warn. I'm not aware of a single scenario that you have a duty to warn but you do have a duty to identify."
What is the ‘duty to identify?’
Alexander and Reale explained it this way: If you heard glass breaking and you hear footsteps and no one else is supposed be in your house. The footsteps are now coming towards you. It's dark. You shoot.
Now it turns out to be your son or your daughter or somebody known to you. You are almost certainly going to be prosecuted because you didn't identify the target.
"Now," Alexander says, "You may be able to raise a solid defense that you believed your safety was in jeopardy but you are probably going to be charged."
If I feel threatened, or I see someone in my yard or trying to steal my car out of the driveway, can I fire a warning shot to scare them off?
The law is very clear on this point.
No, no one is permitted to fire any warning shots in the state of New Jersey, including law enforcement. No warning shots.
Do your best to avoid this situation altogether
The best scenario, is to prevent someone from entering your home in the first place.
South Brunswick Police are urging residents to do the following:
✅ Make sure you keep your home windows and doors locked
✅ Consider using window security guard bars to prevent windows from being pried open
✅ Lock the door between your garage and your home, if possible
✅ If you have a home burglar alarm system, be sure to arm window and door sensors, and use it overnight
✅ Keep exterior lights on or use motion sensor lighting
✅ If you have security cameras, make sure they cover vulnerable areas of your home and driveway, and record for later play-back
✅ Park high-end vehicles in the garage or out of sight if possible
✅ Store key fobs out of sight and in a location that thieves would be unlikely to predict
✅ Always lock your vehicles and never leave a garage door opener in an unlocked vehicle
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