Many of us have heard sensationalized stories in the media comparing self defense and murder, such as the trial of Cyntoia Brown and Jodi Arias. While these stories are often publicly debated and examined in media, the laws surrounding justified actions in self-defense are quite clear.
When it comes to criminal activity in defense of oneself or others, there are legal exceptions. Like many states, California has strict laws surrounding criminal activity and justified criminal activity for self-defense. To learn more about California self-defense laws, continue reading.
What is Self-Defense?
By definition, self-defense is “the use of reasonable force against an aggressor by one who reasonably believes it necessary in order to avoid imminent bodily harm. Self-defense is a justification for conduct that would otherwise be a crime”.
Self-defense can be used as a proper defense in a criminal trial. Self-defense may be appropriate if the defendant was in imminent threat of:
- Assault with a deadly weapon
- Domestic violence
- Any other crime or act that put the defendant at risk of great bodily harm
Stand Your Ground Laws
“Stand Your Ground Laws” are often synonymous with self-defense laws, but there is one key difference. Self-defense laws often require a duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, whereas “Stand Your Ground Laws” remove any duty to retreat and allow the perpetrator to use deadly force, regardless of location (not limited to the home, place of work, etc).
While “Stand Your Ground Laws” are popular in other states, such as Texas and Arizona, California does not have a “Stand Your Ground Law”. Instead, the state of California recognizes The Castle Doctrine.
The Castle Doctrine
The Castle Doctrine states that there is no duty to retreat if a resident confronts an intruder inside his or her own place of residence. Residents are allowed to use force against intruders who break into their homes or are trying to force their way in.
The resident needs to have a reasonable fear of imminent death or great bodily injury to himself/herself/ and/or others in the household. The resident must also know or have a reason to believe trespassing occurred.
How Do Courts and Juries Approach Self-Defense Cases?
As outlined above, a defendant can be found not guilty of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, or attempted voluntary manslaughter if he or she was justified in using self-defense. Section 505 of California’s Criminal Jury Instructions further clarifies:
- “The defendant reasonably believed that he/she/or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury (or in imminent danger of being raped/maimed/robbed/ of other forcible and atrocious crime);
- The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; AND
- The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.”
What is Imperfect Self-Defense?
While exploring the laws surrounding self-defense, it is important to also discuss the concept of imperfect defense. A killing that would otherwise be murder can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter if the defendant killed a person because the defendant was acting in imperfect self-defense.
Imperfect self-defense uses the same concepts as self-defense, but that one of beliefs was unreasonable. The defendant acting in imperfect self-defense if:
- “The defendant reasonably believed that he/she/or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury (or in imminent danger of being raped/maimed/robbed/ of other forcible and atrocious crime); AND
- The defendant reasonably believed that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; BUT
- At least one of those beliefs was unreasonable.”
When Should You Seek Legal Help for Self-Defense?
If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges for a self-defense case, it is best to get an experienced criminal defense attorney involved as soon as possible. Getting a lawyer involved at the beginning of the case will allow your legal representation to obtain police reports, compile a list of all possible witnesses, visit the scene, conduct background checks of all potential witnesses, hire a private investigator if necessary, and employ an independent laboratory if needed. A criminal defense lawyer can help build your case to help you escape criminal liability for lawful actions.
In the state of California, you have the right to defend yourself and others from imminent harm. A lawyer can help you prove that your actions were reasonable and that the correct level of force was used.