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Self-Defense in California: When Is It Legal?

By Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney on August 11, 2020

We all feel a little worried when walking down the street alone at night. What if someone tries to rob us? What if a madman with a gun pops out from around the corner? What if we see someone being assaulted across the street? What do we do then? Well, in California, self-defense is an option. But when does self-defense go a step too far?

Defense vs Assault

Self-defense is legal in California, so long as the act of defending yourself was “reasonable under the circumstances.” What that means is, the way you defended yourself was not considered to be an overstep. For example, if someone tried to grab your bag from off your shoulder, misting them with the pepper spray would likely be considered reasonable. If you, however, carry a concealed firearm and used it to injury or kill the would-be thief, that would be going too far.

Defending Yourself Legally

In order for your act of self-defense to be legal, it must be considered reasonable under the circumstances. That means that there was:

  • Immediate danger of you being killed, injured, sexually touched, or robbed
  • Immediate danger of someone near you being killed, injured, sexually touched, or robbed
  • This danger had to be resisted with force
  • The force used was only what was necessary to defend yourself or the other person

There are some states where force can only be legally used if it is the last possible resort. First, you have the legal duty to retreat, if possible. However, California is actually a “stand your ground” state. This means that you do not have the legal duty to retreat from your attacker before using force to defend yourself. If there is an immediate threat to your life, you may act in whatever way is required to protect yourself or another person.

However, once your attacker is no longer a threat, for example, if a blow has knocked them out or otherwise subdued them, then you are no longer allowed to use force. After that point, your life, or the life of the person you are protecting, is no longer in danger. If you continue to attack, then you may be charged with assault or even battery.

When You are Charged with Assault

Self-defense is often used as a defense against charges of assault or similar violent offenses. If someone was going to harm you, it stands to reason that you should fight back in order to keep yourself as safe as possible. However, this can turn into a “he said, she said” situation, where your attacker may claim that you fought them unprovoked. This is commonly seen in situations of domestic violence. In such instances, your case may be decided based on verifiable evidence, injuries, any stolen property they may have taken, or statements from witnesses. Character witnesses, or people who can attest to how passive or violent you and your attacker were, may also be implemented to strengthen your defense.

A good defense, however, will rely on the legal team you hire to fight against your charges. While you do have the right to a public defender, they are often overworked and will probably be unable to give you much of their time or attention. In order to get the best possible outcome in your case, you need an experienced Los Angeles violent crimes defense attorney by your side, fighting against the prosecution. We at Werksman Jackson & Quinn LLP are experts in what we do. We know the court system inside and out and understand what makes a good defense. If you want a top-notch attorney on your side, call us at (213) 688-0460.

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Posted in: Criminal Defense