Self Defense Laws
Self-defense is a valid legal defense for most crimes. But, in order to use it, you need to meet the self-defense laws requirements to show that the action actually was self-defense. So, what do self-defense laws say counts as self-defense?
Self-Defense Laws: What Is Self-Defense?
According to self-defense laws, a defendant may only claim they acted in self-defense if they were protecting themselves or others from imminent danger. This means someone was attempting to hurt you in that instance. Even though you broke the law, the reason you broke the law was to protect yourself or someone else at that moment.
Self-defense laws allow someone to take otherwise illegal action to protect themselves or other people from violent crimes such as assault, battery, homicide, rape, robbery, etc.
Self-Defense Laws: California’s Self-Defense Laws
California does not have explicit self-defense laws, but juries receive guidance in how to determine if someone acted in self-defense or not. It is in Section 505 of the California Criminal Jury Instructions document, to be specific. In order for a defendant to successfully claim they acted in self-defense, they must prove the following things:
- A reasonable person in their situation would believe they or somebody else may be in imminent danger
- They reasonably believed that the only way to prevent the imminent danger was by force
- They used an appropriate level of force in comparison to the danger
The California self-defense laws go on to further explain some of these terms and requirements of a claim of self-defense. Imminent danger is one of these and someone can only claim self-defense if they were facing an immediate threat of harm. This may be someone drawing a weapon to threaten to stab them if they do not hand over their wallet right now. Therefore, you cannot use self-defense to defend your actions if someone threatens to hurt you in the future.
In addition to this, the person must reasonably believe that the threat is real. If a reasonable person faced with the same circumstances would not believe they were facing imminent danger, then the defendant cannot claim self-defense. The jury will consider the information the defendant had available to them in the scenario and if that led them to act the way they did. The key factor is what a reasonable person would believe. If the defendant is mentally ill, then the defendant may be better off using an insanity defense rather than claiming they acted in self-defense.
Another key factor of California self-defense laws is that the defendant must have used an appropriate and justifiable level of force. The jury will determine if the force they used was appropriate or not based on the circumstances. They will take into account the force threatened or used in the attack on the defendant or other person the defendant was protecting and what means the defendant had available to them. The use of deadly force is only reasonable if the threat of harm is deadly force. Self-defense laws do not allow a defendant to use deadly force against a threat of battery or assault.
Does California’s Self-Defense Laws Allow the Initial Aggressor to Claim Self-Defense?
Yes, in certain circumstances, the initial aggressor in a fight can use self-defense laws in their legal defense. If the initial aggressor made a clear, good faith attempt to stop the fight or if the other person escalated the level of force significantly, then the initial aggressor can claim they acted in self-defense. For example, if the defendant started a bar brawl and the other person pulls out a knife.
Does California’s Self-Defense Laws Apply to Someone Who Was Defending Another Person?
Yes, the same legal elements apply to protecting someone else from imminent harm as protecting yourself from imminent harm.
California’s Other Self-Defense Laws
There are a few laws in California that while not explicitly self-defense laws, can contribute to the interpretation of self-defense laws. These are the castle doctrine and stand your ground laws.
The concept behind the castle doctrine is that your home is your castle and you can take whatever steps necessary to protect it. The castle doctrine allows you to use deadly force to protect your home from a forceful break-in.
When someone uses force to break into your home, the law assumes a reasonable fear of imminent harm. Therefore the use of force to defend yourself, your family, and your home is legal under the castle doctrine. While this does not fall specifically under the umbrella of self-defense laws, it is related.
Stand Your Ground Laws
California is not considered a stand your ground state because it does not specifically have a stand your ground law. However, California laws do recognize a person’s right to protect themselves using force rather than retreating. The self-defense laws state that you can protect yourself with an equal level of force to the threatened force rather than just an appropriate level of force to allow you to escape.