Simply put, most people are law-abiding citizens who do try to avoid trouble. In turn, society typically discourages violent or forceful behavior against others and criminalizes this type of conduct. However, dangerous circumstances may arise where individuals must defend themselves from the illegal actions of others. In recognition of this, California law allows individuals the right to protect themselves from harm provided they use reasonable force. This right also extends to using reasonable force in defense of others who are also subject to some imminent threat. What is an imminent danger for asserting self-defense?
Acting in self-defense may provide a legal excuse for otherwise criminal acts. Based on California Jury Instructions, California law considers a defendant to have legally acted in self-defense if the defendant:
- reasonably believed that the defendant or another person was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury,
- reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against this imminent danger, and
- used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger at hand.
When self-defense is legally asserted, then a defendant has a valid legal defense to his or her conduct and is not liable for any crime.
The questions raised most often about self-defense address:
- whether the danger was “imminent,”
- whether the belief that a threat existed was “reasonable,” and
- whether the force used was “no more force than necessary.”
Further, an individual acting in self-defense may have been the initial aggressor and/or have some duty to retreat under some circumstances.
A defendant may only successfully assert self-defense as a legal defense if he or she believed that he or she was in imminent danger. A danger is “imminent” when the threat is present or immediate as in occurring in the presence of an individual. An imminent danger may not relate to an event or action that may or may not happen in the future.
Example: If someone swings a baseball bat at you, the threat of danger would be imminent. A response in which you used reasonable force to alleviate or stop the threat would likely be justified. However, if someone made the threat “I’m going to knock your head off with a baseball bat tonight when I get back,” a California court would likely not consider the threat to be imminent and no use of force contemporaneous in time to this threat would be justified. The threat of danger must be occurring at that very moment.
The defense of self-defense or defense of others is available only while the threat is ongoing. Once the threat has ended, the use of force is no longer legally available and would be considered as an act of retaliation, rather than self-defense. Thus, it is important to understand how self-defense may be legally asserted and when it may be argued successfully to avoid criminal charges. If you have been arrested for a crime in California while acting to defend yourself or a loved one, you may be able to assert self-defense as an affirmative defense.
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.
John Patrick Dolan has handled everything from traffic tickets to death penalty murder cases. Mr. Dolan has represented California motorists charged with DUI for over 40 years. He is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a true courtroom veteran of DUI cases. Call the Dolan Law Offices today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.