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When Can Someone Use Deadly Force In Self-Defense?

In one of the most infamous self-defense cases in the history of American jurisprudence, George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman claimed he was attacked and acted in self-defense. A six-person jury agreed and returned “not guilty” on all counts. This case held the attention of the nation raising the question of when the use of deadly force is lawful. Of course, California law also allows individuals to act in self-defense. However, when does California law allow individuals to use deadly force in self-defense?

California law allows the use of force either in self-defense or the defense of others when the actor reasonably believes that an imminent danger of physical harm exists, and that force is necessary to stop this immediate threat. However, the degree of force that may be lawfully used is only that which is reasonably necessary under the circumstances, i.e., the level of force set forth must be proportionate to the threat. A person may legally use self-defense when he or she defends him or herself, another person, or his or her property.

California law permits the use of deadly force in self-defense when certain circumstances are present. A person is legally justified to use deadly force and may assert it as a legal defense when the accused reasonably believed that he/she, or someone else, was in imminent danger of being killed, suffering great bodily injury, or being the victim of a forcible and egregious crime, such as rape.

An individual is also legally justified to use deadly force in self-defense or the defense of others where there was a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent the danger from occurring, and no more force than reasonably necessary was used to prevent the danger or harm from occurring. Also, if a person instigates a confrontation but then tries to end it and is unsuccessful, he or she may use deadly force in self-defense.

The Castle Doctrine is a legal standard that applies when a person uses self-defense inside his or her home. This doctrine provides that there is no duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside the home. Also, more importantly, a resident has the right to use deadly force in self-defense inside his or her home when someone uses force to break in and enter. California Penal Code § 198.5 PC provides that persons are presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent harm when an intruder breaks into and enters their homes.

In the summer of 2019, California legislators adopted new standards governing the use of deadly force by law enforcement personnel. The old law allowed police to use deadly force under reasonable circumstances. Under the new law, a police officer may only use lethal force when necessary.

As a California Criminal Trial Lawyer with over 40 years of courtroom experience, John Patrick Dolan has handled everything from traffic tickets to death penalty murder cases. These four decades of experience have helped John Patrick Dolan help his clients obtain the best resolution possible when freedom and reputation are at stake. Mr. Dolan is a recognized California State Bar Certified Specialist in Criminal Law and a true courtroom veteran of domestic violence defense cases. Call us today at (760) 775-3739 or find out more online here.

When Can Someone Use Deadly Force In Self-Defense?

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