Strategic Defense
From A Former Prosecutor

Self-defense: When does the law allow the use of force?

On Behalf of | Jun 20, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Self-defense is a common defense invoked in cases involving violent crimes, such as murder, assault and battery. You may not have a case to answer if you can prove self-defense, as your use of force is legally justified.

That said, a self-defense claim must meet certain legal requirements to hold water in court, as explained below.

The threat must be imminent and reasonable

For a self-defense claim to stand, the threat must be immediate and certain to happen. You cannot claim self-defense if you use force after the threat has passed. Another requirement is that a reasonable person in the same situation would perceive the danger as real and respond in self-defense.

These requirements ensure that individuals cannot claim self-defense based on speculative or hypothetical threats.

Your use of force must not be excessive

You can only claim self-defense if you use force proportionate to the threat or danger posed by the other person. When facing a deadly threat, self-defense permits using deadly force in response. However, your self-defense claim will likely be unsuccessful if the threat is minor and you employ excessive force that could cause severe harm or death.

The initial aggressor also matters

Generally, you cannot claim self-defense if you initiated the attack. However, you can still assert self-defense if the person you attacked responds with excessive force. Additionally, if you withdrew from the initial attack and the person you attacked continues to pursue and pose a threat, you can legally use force to protect yourself.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means the burden of proof is on you to prove that your actions were justified. Therefore, reaching out for legal guidance on what you can do to build your case and increase the odds of a favorable verdict is in your best interest.