Like every jurisdiction in the United States, California law allows individuals to use force in self-defense. Of course, this privileged use of force is limited. Self-defense serves as a legal defense to many criminal offenses, including domestic battery, assault, and even murder. An individual may also use force in the defense of others. In past decades, many controversial cases across the country have litigated “stand your ground” and the duty to retreat.

To invoke self-defense under California law, individuals must reasonably believe that they, or another person, are in imminent danger of harm. They must also reasonably believe that the immediate use of force is necessary to defend themselves or others against this harm. Finally, perhaps the most significant aspect of the defense is that the person must use no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against the imminent danger of harm.

An imminent danger is a threat that is immediate and present. Under California case law, an imminent danger is one that the defendant must instantly deal with to avoid harm. In measuring whether a person’s beliefs are reasonable, all the circumstances as known and perceived by the defendant are considered and compared to what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed.

In California, when threatened with great bodily injury, i.e., significant or substantial physical injury, defendants may use deadly force in self-defense or defense of others, and they may do so with no duty to retreat. They may “stand their ground.”  A California jury instruction, CalCrim 505, reads as follows:

“An accused is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of death or great bodily injury has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.”

California’s “stand your ground” law generally establishes the right of a person to defend themselves or others with reasonable force, which may include deadly force, without any consideration as to whether that person could retreat. California’s version of the “stand your ground” law applies anywhere a person is legally allowed and does not require him or her to retreat from such location.

California follows a castle doctrine, which is a castle law or defense of habitation law based on the English common law notion that a man’s home is his castle, which he may, therefore, defend. American and California law interprets this doctrine as a Californian cannot be convicted of a crime for using deadly force against most unlawful intruders. There is no duty to retreat from the home even if it may be done safely. All states have adopted some variation of this legal doctrine. This doctrine only applies only when the resident of a home is assaulted within his or her own home. California codifies this doctrine in Penal Code § 198.5.

The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices may help any Californian obtain the best possible result in his or her criminal matter. John Patrick Dolan is a California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law. Certification as a Specialist in Criminal Law is the highest achievement awarded by the State Bar of California to attorneys in the field of criminal law. The attorneys at the Dolan Law Offices have decades of experience defending individuals charged with drug possession, domestic violence, DUI, and violent felonies. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

Self-Defense And The Duty To Retreat

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