Use of Force is Justified in New Mexico

The time for holiday shopping and family get-together preparations is about to reach its summit. People are rushing to and from their vehicles with hardly a second glance at their surroundings. One distracted moment is all a criminal needs to get into your vehicle to steal your belongings, or worse, make you the victim of an assault or robbery. Situational awareness is key: be mindful of your surroundings, gravitate toward lit areas in parking lots, scan the area for any possible threat, and have a plan in mind for retreat or cover. But what happens when a law-abiding gun owner finds themselves in the sights of a criminal?

During the holiday season, many holiday shoppers are caught unaware by theft, robbery, or burglary of their vehicles. It is critical that you, as a law-abiding gun owner, understand what legal response is allowable and justified for each of these criminal actions before you find yourself in the middle of one of these terrifying incidents.

Understanding When Use of Force is Justified

Especially if you carry a handgun, knowing the law on the justified use of force and deadly force to prevent a crime will help you develop a plan before an incident takes place. Theft, robbery, and burglary are all too common around the holidays. We don’t want you to become a victim, so let’s address each of these.


Theft, called “larceny” in New Mexico, is the stealing of anything of value that belongs to another. Generally, theft alone with no other aggravating factors does not justify the use of deadly force.


Robbery is the theft of anything of value from the person of another or from the immediate control of another, by use or threatened use of force or violence. If the perpetrator is armed with a deadly weapon, the penalty for robbery increases.


Burglary of a vehicle is another crime that is common in parking lots around the holidays. Burglary of a vehicle occurs when a perpetrator makes unauthorized entry into a vehicle with intent to commit any felony or theft therein.

How can you best defend yourself against theft, robbery, or burglary of your vehicle this holiday season? You are justified in using nondeadly force in self-defense if:

  1. There was an appearance of immediate danger of bodily harm to you as a result of an unlawful act;
  2. You were in fact put in fear of immediate bodily harm and used nondeadly force because of that fear;
  3. You used an amount of force that you believed was reasonable and necessary to prevent the bodily harm; and
  4. The apparent danger would have caused a reasonable person in the same circumstances to act as you did.

Further, if the actions of nondeadly self-defense cause death or great bodily harm, the force used by you must be force that ordinarily would not create a substantial risk of death or great bodily harm. NM UJI 14-5181.

However, if you kill the person that you are defending yourself against, in order for the killing to be legally justified it will need to be shown that:

  1. There was an appearance of immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to you as a result of the threat from the perpetrator;
  2. You were in fact put in fear by the apparent danger of immediate death or great bodily harm and killed the perpetrator because of that fear; and
  3. A reasonable person in the same circumstances as you would have acted as you did. NM UJI 14-5171.

As you can see, you generally must have a need to protect your life, not your possessions, in order to use nondeadly force and deadly force in New Mexico. Armed with situational awareness and an understanding of the self-defense laws in New Mexico, you can protect yourself from the criminal element and keep yourself on the right side of the law this holiday season.

For any further questions regarding self-defense over the holiday season, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.


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