Violent Crime vs. Self-Defense: How to Tell the Difference

When someone is coming at you or your family with clear intent to cause harm, you may be left with no choice but to stop them physically. Unfortunately, there may be no one around to witness this event, which means you may have to explain to law enforcement why you used force to stop this person.

Self-defense is a justified reason to use force, but if you are arrested for a violent crime charge then you are going to have to prove in court why what you did was necessary. The law has some clear distinctions between self-defense and violent crimes. In this post, we will go over some of these differences to help you understand when the use of force is justified under the law. Our New York criminal defense lawyer can represent you in court if you are arrested for a violent crime such as assault and battery even when you were acting in self-defense.

When Is Force “Necessary?"

Famed science fiction writer Isaac Asimov is known for penning the line “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” It would be more accurate to say that “violence is the last resort of the desperate.” We have a duty to society and ourselves to only use violence when absolutely necessary, but what is “necessary?” There are many possible answers to this question, but the law defines it as a situation where a person needs to protect themselves or a loved one from imminent danger.

Situations where danger seems imminent are circumstantial. In the heat of the moment, it is unlikely anyone will take the time to ask themselves if this is the right course of action. If you have to use force to defend yourself or someone else from an immediate threat, then there’s no time to think. Keep in mind that this means you must be facing an active threat— someone who is posing an immediate danger. If you are worried that someone might attack you, and you track them down and attack them first, then you cannot claim self-defense in court.

Defending Yourself In & Outside Your Home

The justifications for self-defense change depending on whether the act occurs inside or outside your home. If someone unlawfully enters your home, then you have reason to believe that they are there to cause you harm and that the use of force is necessary. Outside the home, there needs to be more evidence that someone is going to cause you harm.

In California, self-defense inside the home is justified when:

  • You had reason to believe someone unlawfully entered your home
  • There was reason to believe this person would cause harm to you or another member of the household
  • No one in the home had provoked the intruder

California self-defense outside the home is justified when:

  • You had reason to believe someone was about to cause you harm
  • You had no choice but to use force to stop this threat
  • The threat was imminent
  • You used no more force than what was necessary

Defining “Reasonable” Force

When using self-defense, you must keep in mind that you can use no more force than what is necessary. This terminology can be somewhat misleading. “Reasonable” is not the same as equal. If someone is coming at you with a life, you would likely be within your rights to use a gun to stop them. You cannot always assess how dangerous a threat is and respond without lethal force if they are coming at you. However, if you were to shoot someone who was running away or had already been subdued, then you would be guilty of using unreasonable force.

For example, if you had shot someone who was holding a knife in the leg and they fell over, unable to move, it would be unreasonable to continue shooting at them.

Work With an Attorney to Prepare Your Defense

Regardless of the circumstances of your situation, if you are arrested for a violent crime after acting in self-defense then you are going to need an attorney to help you build your defense. Do not try to explain the situation to the police. Though you may have been acting in self-defense, you could end up incriminating yourself if you do not carefully choose your words when detailing the vents in question. Thankfully, with skilled legal counsel, it should be possible to prove your actions were justified in court.

Contact a Fresno criminal defense attorney at The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch if you were charged with a violent crime when attempting to defend yourself. We offer free consultations and you can reach us at [F:P:Site:Phone}.

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