RI X. L. Self-Defense

NOTE: Many states have standardized jury instructions that are prepared by legal experts under the supervision of the State’s Supreme Court.  Such jury instructions are prepared by independent third-parties, not by the prosecution or the defense, and thus can be considered “neutral” between those adversarial parties..  

Rhode Island does not have standardized criminal jury instructions of this “neutral” type.  All that is available is a series of jury instruction prepared by the Rhode Island Department of Attorney General.  As a result, they do not represent the perspective of the defense, and thus do not share the “neutral” aspect of genuine standardized jury instructions.  They were also last updated in 2000, and thus are rather dated.  

Nevertheless, given that these are all that is available in the context of self-defense jury instructions, we provide them here. 


RI X. L. Self-Defense

A person may defend himself whenever he or she reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of bodily harm at the hands of another.  The person need not wait for the other person to strike the first blow. [126] This right is called the right of self-defense. A person may claim the right of self-defense only if you find that:

1. he or she actually believed that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm, and if

2. he or she has reasonable grounds for that belief.

The question is not whether in hindsight the amount of force the defendant used was necessary. Rather it was whether the defendant, under all the circumstances which you find to have existed at the time of the incident, as they appeared to the defendant, actually believed that he or she was in imminent danger of bodily harm, and could reasonably maintain that belief.

By reasonable amount of force, I mean a person may use an amount of force which at the time of the incident he or she reasonably believed was necessary to protect himself or herself from imminent harm. [127] What is reasonable and necessary force to defend oneself is to be determined in light of the time, place and surrounding circumstances the defendant finds himself or herself in at the time the force is used. [128]

In some circumstances, a person may even used [sic] deadly force to protect himself or herself. “Deadly Force” is defined as the amount of force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. However, a person may only use deadly force in a situation where the defendant believes that he or she is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm from which he or she can save himself or herself only by using deadly force against his or her assailants.  This is because our law holds that a person can only use the amount of force reasonably necessary to protect himself or herself. [129]

The law requires a person to retreat or attempt to retreat when he or she actually and reasonably believes that he or she is in danger of being attacked, as long as he or she is consciously aware of an open, safe and available avenue of escape. [130] If you find that the defendant could have retreated, and did not attempt to do so, he or she is not entitled to use deadly force in his or her self-defense.

The occupant of a dwelling, when attacked in his or her home by a trespasser, does not have a duty to retreat and may use deadly force if necessary to avoid death or great bodily harm. [131] When one is attacked in his or her own dwellings by a person who initially entered as a social guest, but who became a trespasser by remaining on the property after having been ordered to leave, is likewise absolved from the duty to retreat. [132]  A person assailed in his or her own residence by a co-occupant is not entitled under the guise of self-defense to employ deadly force and kill his or her assailant.  The person attacked is obligated to attempt retreat if he or she is aware of a safe available avenue of retreat. [133]

You have heard conflicting testimony as to whether or not the defendant was the aggressor in this incident. As the finders of fact, you must determine from the evidence you have before you whether in fact the defendant was the aggressor.  I am instructing you that the law of self-defense holds that a person who instigates the combative confrontation cannot invoke the doctrines of self-defense. [134]

The defendant is not required to prove that he or she acted in self-defense. Rather, where there is evidence of self-defense, and you determine from the facts that the defendant was entitled to invoke the doctrine of self-defense, the State must prove to each of you beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. [135]


126. State v. Dellay, 687 A.2d 435 (1996); State v. D’Amario, 568 A.2d 1383 (R.I. 1990).

127. State v. Tribble, 428 A.2d 1079 (R.I. 1981)

128. State v. Marquis, 588 A.2d 1053 (R.I. 1991)

129. Tribble, Id.

130. State v. Martinez, 652 A.2d 958 (R.I. 1995); State v. Fetzik, 577 A.2d 990 (R.I. 1990); State v. Guillemet, 430 A.2d 1066 (R.I. 1981)

131. State v. Ordway, 619 A.2d 819 (R.I. 1992)

132. State v. Walton, 615 A.2d 469 (R.I. 1992)

133. State v. Quarles, 504 A.2d 473 (R.I. 1986)

134. State v. Lamoureux, 573 A.2d 1176 (R.I. 1990). See also State v. Ballow, 40 A. 861 (R.I. 1898); State v. Martinez, Id.

135. In re John Doe, 390 A.2d 920 (R.I. 1978); State v. Baker, 417 A.2d 906 (R.I. 1980); State v. Quarles, 504 A.2d 473 (R.I. 1985)