It is generally assumed that you’re allowed to protect yourself from imminent harm if the circumstances are appropriate.
Typically, physical contact that can hurt somebody indicates that you may well be charged with a crime, but in the case of self-defense, physical force is generally justified.
But when is the use of force acceptable in a court of law?
Each state in the country allows a defendant to claim “self-defense” if accused of a violent crime.
Rowdy Williams says,
“Being wrongfully accused of a crime you didn’t commit can be both frustrating and scary. In order to protect your future, you need to think and act quickly.”
As you probably know, though, the specificity and interpretation of the self-defense rules and laws vary by jurisdiction.
How is Self-Defense Defined?
Self-defense is defined as the right to prevent violence through the use of a counteracting force. Of course, the definition seems to speak for itself, but its practicality raises quite a few questions.
- What if the victim in question prompted the confrontation to begin with?
- What if the victim perceives a threat that doesn’t actually exist?
States have been able to discern the lines of what constitutes self-defense through a common law known as “Stand Your Ground.”
The stand-your-ground laws are important in that they remove the requirement that you must retreat from a confrontation as opposed to using force first to protect yourself.
These series of laws were passed in 2005 in Florida, and other states have adopted similar edicts. About half of the states in the United States now allow you to stand your ground, but some other states have different requirements.
A famous case in recent history that utilized this law was the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin in 2012. About 20 other states require a person to retreat and not resort to deadly force, if they can.
How Immediate is the Threat?
As a general rule of self-defense, the primary question that should be asked is whether or not a threat is imminent.
If there is an immediate threat, the use of force is normally justified.
The risks can be physical, and the dangers can be verbal. However, with verbal threats, one can only use force if they have a reasonable fear that a physical attack will accompany it.
If offensive statements are made, but no physical threat comes along with it, physical force cannot be used.
The use of physical force also loses its justification once the threat has ended. At that point, any physical attack cannot be considered self-defense and may be regarded as assault or battery, depending on its severity.
Unfortunately, the lines of self-defense are often blurred based on the subjective feelings of someone. There are often situations where a person may have a genuine fear of something that generally doesn’t warrant physical force.
If you use self-defense in these situations, then it is usually considered to be “imperfect” self-defense. From state to state, they also take into consideration whether or not the self-defense action was used as a result of the defendant exacerbating the situation.
If someone unintentionally dies as a result of some self-defense action due to the supposed victim escalating the situation, charges may be reduced, but the killing may not entirely be excused.
In law, the concept of “proportional response” is often used to determine the legality of self-defense.
Proportional defense means that the use of self-defense must match the level of the threat in question. If deadly force is being used against the defendant, then deadly force can be used to defend themselves. However, if only minor force is used, then only minor force can be used as a defense.
What if I Attack Them First? Can I Still Claim Self-Defense?
Every case is different, of course, but in general, you can attack or hit first and still claim self-defense.
If you feel that an attack is about to happen or your life or property is in danger, you don’t have to wait to be attacked before you react. You can act first to protect yourself and still claim “self-defense”.
What is the “Castle Doctrine”?
Aside from standing your ground or abiding by the rule to retreat, the “castle doctrine” is also commonly utilized by states to determine the justification for self-defense in particular situations.
This rule allows people to defend their homes against intruders using deadly force, regardless of whether or not the intruder made a direct physical assault. The specificity of this rule varies by state, but the defendant is generally allowed to defend themselves from an intruder, no matter the reasoning.
Self-defense can be a very tricky case in a court of law, as each situation has its unique dynamics and its own set of regulations that accompany those unique dynamics. However, self-defense rules remain very commonplace, and as laws are developed, the basic concept remains the same.
You have the right to defend yourself, and you should never need to fear for your life.
Enroll in self-defense classes today to ensure you are ready for any threats that may come your way.