Criminal Defense

What Is a ‘Self-Defense’ Defense in Criminal Law?

January 21, 2022 by Madison Ferguson in Criminal Defense  
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Self-Defense Laws

In California, as well as other states, it is considered your right to defend yourself, your property, or another person against impending danger. Sometimes this may involve committing actions that are against the law. Nonetheless, in situations like this, a defendant can use self-defense as a legal defense for the crime in California.

However, to effectively use self-defense for your rebuttal in court. It is necessary to understand what counts as self-defense and what other factors matter.

What Is Self Defense?

Self-defense refers to the use of force or violence against another individual to protect yourself, another person, or your property against imminent harm. Thus, by claiming self-defense the defendant does admit they broke the law. But you only did so because you were trying to protect yourself or someone else.

Self-defense in California can be used as a legal defense for violent criminal offenses such as:

The Elements of Self-Defense Laws in California

For a defendant to legally claim they acted in self-defense under California state law, they have to prove:

  • They reasonably believed they were in imminent danger of being hurt, illegally touched, or killed;
  • They reasonably believed, they needed to use immediate force or violence to avoid the stated harm; and
  • They only used the sufficient force required to stop the imminent danger.

Imminent Danger

Imminent danger describes a threat that is occurring at the moment. Self-defense only works as a legal argument if the peril is impending. Meaning the harm needs to be happening right before the defendant’s eyes. Therefore, if the danger is expected to occur, in the future, and the accused breaks the law. It cannot be categorized as self-defense.

Reasonable Belief

For one, to legally claim self-defense, the defendant needs to reasonably believe that the threat exists and force or violence was required to protect them. Bear in mind a belief does not have to be correct to be considered reasonable.

To determine reasonability, a judge or jury will consider:

  • All the relevant facts known to the defendant at the time.
  • What an objectively reasonable person would have believed under the same situation?
  • What the logical person would have done under the same circumstance?

Sufficient Force Needed

The level of force used needs to be reasonably proportionate to stopping the perceived threat under the circumstances to claim self-defense. If more force than a logical person would require is used. Then the defendant cannot argue self-defense.

For example:

  • Bob punches John. Then John reacts by shooting Bob, killing him. Yet Bob had no visible weapon. The force used to stop this threat may be considered slightly excessive. Hence, John cannot declare self-defense in this situation.

This begs the question, can deadly force be used when acting in self-defense?

The simple answer is yes.

A person can still act in self-defense while using deadly force. Nonetheless, the deadly force does need to be justified. The force used always needs to match the perceived threat. Therefore, if the accused believes the imminent threat put them or someone else’s life in danger or the victim was being exposed to a forced, barbaric crime. Then the deadly force may be warranted.

Some Other Factors To Contemplate On California Self-Defense Laws

What is California’s stance on Standing Your Ground?

California is a ‘Stand Your Ground State.’ Meaning that when faced with immediate harm, an individual does not have to retreat or flee. While California currently does not have an exclusive Stand Your Ground Law. It does accept a person’s right to make a stance to protect themselves without trying to escape.

You should be aware that Stand Your Ground matters in California works even if the defendant would have been safer running away.

Can You Claim Self-Defense If You Initiated The Fight?

In most cases, self-defense only works if the defendant was not the initial aggressor. The initial aggressor is the person who starts the fight. Thus, though it may be harder for one to declare self-defense if they are the initial aggressor, it is not impossible if the defendant:

  1. Made a good faith effort to stop the fight and indicated this to the other party.
  2. Started the fight with non-deadly force. However, the second party responded with deadly force.

Self Defense of Others Or Property

In California, it is well within your rights to protect others, as well as your property. As long as you can prove that you reasonably believed the other person or their property was in immediate harm. Also, you reasonably believed the force or violence used was warranted to stop the danger, and only the sufficient amount of force necessary was used.

California’s Castle Doctrine

The Castle Doctrine refers to a group of laws that describe your right to use deadly force in your home to protect yourself or the family if someone happens to break in. Therefore, under the Penal Code 198.5PC, if a homeowner perceives impending danger when someone breaks into their home. The homeowner has no duty to retreat and is considered justified to use deadly force to protect themselves, their family, and their home.

Related Articles:

What Is a ‘Factual Defense’ In Criminal Law?

What Is an ‘Affirmative Defense’ In Criminal Law?

Unconsciousness as a Criminal Defense

Common Criminal Defenses

Possible DUI Defenses

The Insanity Defense

Claiming Self-Defense In a Criminal Case – Hire Us

Have you been accused of criminal charges? But were, only acting in self-defense? Then contact us at the Esfandi law firm and allow us to help you argue your case. With over 21 years of experience handling all kinds of criminal cases. We have the needed skills and experience to analyze your case with a fine-tooth comb and create a compelling self-defense case.

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