Whether you are confronting a burglar or defending yourself from a physical attack, the right to use force to defend yourself is a widely accepted principle of criminal defense. When you are in a fight-or-flight situation, instinct tells you to preserve your own life by any means possible. Sometimes, incidents that involve self-defense can end in unpleasant, tragic circumstances.
Whether you are facing charges for assault, manslaughter, or homicide, actions done in self-defense should not have implications on your future and your freedom. It’s important to familiarize yourself with what the self-defense laws are for the state of California so that you know what the law defines as self-defense and what actions you should avoid.
California law divides the right to self-defense into three categories:
The right to self-defend or defend another is the most common definition of self-defense and the one we usually associate with. If you used force against another person to defend yourself or another person, you are not guilty of the charge if:
The right of self-defense in mutual combat or as an initial aggressor is when you defend yourself during a fight that you started or participated in. You are not guilty of the charge if:
If you own property, you have the right to defend your property from imminent harm using reasonable force. California law defines reasonable force as the amount of force that any reasonable person would use in defending their property in the same situation.
For example, if you wake up in the middle of the night and see someone breaking into your car outside, the court may not consider shooting them as reasonable force since you were inside your home. If you wake up in the middle of the night and find a burglar with a knife in your home, the court may consider shooting them as reasonable force since you and your property were in imminent danger.
While California is not a “stand your ground” state, it does recognize the castle doctrine. This doctrine states that a person has the right to use deadly force as a means of self-defense if an intruder unlawfully enters:
California law states that you do not have a duty to retreat if you are on your own property. However, the castle doctrine ends once you are off your own property. In addition, any force used against an intruder should be proportional to the danger that you feared.
You will need to prove that you had a reasonable and proportional fear for your own life in order to use self-preservation as a defense. This is how California distinguishes between unjustified homicide and self-defense. A person who is defending his or her life should not have to face punishment because of actions taken in self-defense.