What is Self-Defense?

SQ Attorneys

The affirmative defense called of self-defense is often brought it in assault cases in criminal law . As a general rule, you have the legal right to use force to protect yourself against physical violence if you reasonably believe someone poses an imminent threat of bodily harm to you. If you are in reasonable fear and your use of force is justified, you cannot face criminal charges for any harm you cause your aggressor. Self-defense is about the prevention of harm, and not retaliation. If the aggressor stands down after hitting you, you don’t automatically get to punch them back, no matter how fair that might seem.To rely on self-defense, you must be lawfully present where you are and trespassers can not assert self-defense. Furthermore, your response must be proportional. If someone punches you, you can’t pull out a deadly weapon like a gun and shoot them (well, you can, but a police officer will likely arrest you for aggravated assault). You can only use the amount of force necessary to eliminate the threat of harm to you. Finally, you cannot rely on self-defense if you are the initial aggressor. If you start the fight, you can be held liable for any personal injury you cause, even if you don’t throw the first punch.

The rules regarding the use of deadly force is specified in most States. If an altercation escalates and your aggressor pulls out a knife or a gun then a proportional response may involve the use of deadly force. The rules for using deadly force are a little different from non-lethal force.

In many states, you have a “duty to retreat” before you can use deadly force (and in some states, any force). If you can safely avoid the risk of serious bodily injury by retreating in these states, you have a legal obligation to do so. This may seem unfair to some (such as survivors of domestic violence), but the law would prefer to leave the decision of using deadly force, when appropriate, to law enforcement.

An exception to the “duty to retreat” is if you are attacked in your home (some states extend this to the workplace or an occupied vehicle). According to what’s called the “castle doctrine,” you may use deadly force to protect yourself or prevent a felony in your home.

A slight majority of states go further than the castle doctrine. In a “stand-your-ground” state, you can legally respond to an immediate threat of death or serious physical injury with lethal force, regardless of where you are, without having to retreat.

Note that although you do not have a duty to retreat, you still must have a legal right to be present there and the force you use must still be proportional to the threat you face. You can face misdemeanor or even felony murder or assault charges under your state’s criminal law if you use too much force and harm or kill your aggressor.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer. SQ Attorneys can be reached at (425) 359-3791 and/or (206) 441-0900.

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