NJ Homeowner Shoots Intruder, Now Faces Nation’s Toughest Self-Defense Laws

by Vern Evans
Police patrol car with flashing lights and siren on during the night raid against crime

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A Trenton, New Jersey, homeowner faced a harrowing event late Sunday night when a man with a hammer broke into his house forcing him to shoot the man in self-defense. Now he potentially faces another larger and more protracted harrowing event should he be forced to navigate New Jersey’s legal system and the state’s strict self-defense laws. Fortunately, he was in his home where the law, even for New Jersey, seems to be fairly clear cut.

Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri detailed the incident to New Jersey 101.5, reporting that at approximately 10:30 p.m., Sunday evening, 34-year-old Andray Ingram, wielding a hammer, first shattered a Ring video doorbell and then forcefully entered a home on Bert Avenue. The armed homeowner, confronted by Ingram in the vestibule of the home, discharged multiple shots, fatally striking Ingram in the chest. Ingram managed to flee but was found at a nearby intersection and taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The event is under investigation, but authorities have yet to file charges against the homeowner, noting the complexities surrounding defensive actions within one’s home.

In a companion article to the shooting, New Jersey 101.5 notes the potential legal rollercoaster the homeowner now faces given the fact that the Garden State has some of the most restrictive self-defense rights in the state.

“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,” veteran prosecutor Samuel “Skip” Reale told 101.5. “…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.”

It’s important to note that Reale was not speaking of the current case specifically and is not a prosecutor in that case. He was replying to a general question that was asked of him by the reporter.

“In New Jersey, we have a presumption of innocence, but we don’t have a presumption that you made the right choice,” he added.

In fact, the article noted in interviewing the experts, in some cases, New Jersey’s interpretation of the Castle Doctrine, even requires homeowners to warn intruders to vacate the premises before firing shots, unless danger is imminent.

But civil rights attorney Tim Alexander clarified that in further questioning and said, “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.”

Just shooting at a dark form walking across the room toward you isn’t enough both Reale and Alexander agreed. You have to identify who it is before firing, citing the example it could be a family member who forgot a key and broke a window to get in or some similar situation.

And what if you fail to identify the person before shooting and they wind up being someone who had a possible right to be there?

“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,” Alexander said.

Outside of the home, and contrary to states with “Stand Your Ground” laws, New Jersey law compels individuals to retreat, if possible, before resorting to deadly force in self-defense. Legal experts emphasize the serious implications and potential legal challenges that homeowners face even when their actions might seem justifiable in the moment of threat.

“Even if the law allows for it, you’re going to be subject to an investigation. You’re subject to potential criminal charges. You’re subject to potential civil charges,” Stafford Township Police Chief Thomas Dellane told 101.5. “If I can make one strong point … call 911 as soon as possible, and let the professionals deal with it the way we’re trained to do.”

The almost impossible expectations layered into New Jersey’s laws isn’t lost on prosecutor Reale, but his observation on how the law operates in his state is something every gun owner there needs to understand.

“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?” Reale said. “And New Jersey is always going to second-guess you in the process.”

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