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Claiming Self-Defense in a Criminal Case

Posted in Criminal Defense,Sentencing on March 17, 2020

It is understood that a person has the right to protect themselves and their property from harm in most circumstances, even when the behavior or actions they take would generally be considered a crime. In California, defendants can claim self-defense in the event they are charged with a violent crime.

What is Self-defense?

Self-defense is the right a person has to prevent suffering violence or force on themselves. Generally, a person can defend themselves using a sufficient level of counteracting violence or force to prevent harm. For example, if a person is confronting a burglar in their house or defending themselves from being assaulted in a parking lot, it is widely understood that they have a right to defend themselves. In a “fight-or-flight” situation, our instincts will tell us to preserve our own lives by any means possible.

Sometimes, a self-defense situation can result in serious harm or even death to another person. This can lead to the person who was defending themselves being charged with a crime.

Under California law, the right to self-defense falls into three categories:

  • The right to defend oneself or another.
  • The right to defend oneself in combat.
  • The right to defend personal property.

What needs to be shown?

Depending on which category the self-defense falls into, there are various elements that need to be shown in order to prove an argument of self-defense. In general, a person will need to show that:

  • They believed themselves or another person was in danger.
  • They used no more force than was necessary.
  • They believed force was necessary for their defense.

If a person is defending their property, which they have a right to do under California law, then they may use a reasonable amount of force. State law defines reasonable force as the amount of force that any “reasonable person” would use in the same situation defending their property. For example, the courts may not view it reasonable to shoot someone who is breaking into your car outside of your home because you were inside your home and away from the threat. However, if you wake up and find a burglar in your room with a knife, the court may say you are justified and shooting them.

Imminent Threat

Understanding the meaning of an imminent threat is important. Generally, using force for self-defense is only justified when a person is responding to an immediate threat. This threat can be verbal, so long as it places the intended victim in immediate fear of physical harm.

It should also be stated that self-defense typically loses justification after the threat has ended. For example, if somebody punches you in the face and then walks away after indicating that they no longer have an intention to commit violence, the threat of danger has ended. Causing harm to the aggressor at this point would not be considered self-defense, but rather retaliatory.

Claiming self defense,, do I need an attorney?

Do I need an Attorney?

If you have been charged with a crime after defending yourself, someone else, or your property from harm, seek legal assistance immediately. At the Law Offices of Graham Donath, APC, our Riverside assault defense attorneys have vast experience handling self-defense cases. We will examine every aspect of your case and get to work building a solid defense. You can contact us for a consultation on your case by clicking here or by calling as soon as possible.