If you or someone else is in immediate danger, California law allows you to act in self defense. In other words, you can take the steps necessary to maintain your safety.
This can include actions like:
- Fighting back if you are “jumped”
- Using physical force to protect someone else who is in danger
- Killing someone who is endangering your life
That said, there are nuances to California’s self defense laws that you should know about. In any self defense case, you can only use the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to defend yourself.
How courts and juries consider self defense
How does a court decide if you legally acted in self defense? They will ask the judge or jury to examine the facts of the case and look for three things:
- You reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury.
- You reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger.
- You used no more force than was necessary to defend against that danger.
California is both a “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” state.
“Stand Your Ground” means that if someone is threatening you or someone else, you or under no duty to retreat if you wish to claim self defense. You are allowed to remain present and defend yourself, no matter what.
“Castle Doctrine” is similar, and it states that you have no obligation to retreat if an intruder comes into your home. In fact, under California Penal Code 198.5 PC, a home intruder is always treated as a situation of “reasonable fear of imminent harm.”
Anytime a court considers a self defense argument, the judge or jury will have to consider all of the evidence in the case and decide whether or not an average person would think that the three elements above are true. They do not consider whether or not you retreated.
Examples of self defense cases
Let’s look at a few examples of self defense to explore this further:
Example 1: Kristen is walking home alone late at night after a concert. A stranger emerges and approaches her. Kristen acts quickly, maces the stranger and flees.
A jury might find that Kristen legally acted in self defense, because the circumstances around the situation implied that she was in danger of mugging or assault, and she used only the amount of force necessary to reach safety.
Example 2: Let’s say Kristen is still at the concert, where she is surrounded by hundreds of people. A stranger approaches her, and she maces him.
Here, Kristen’s self defense claim might not be valid. In the concert environment, it’s less likely that the stranger approached her to mug or assault her, so it’s unlikely that she was facing imminent danger.
Example 3: Chris is at home. He hears a loud commotion outside, where a gang of young men are smashing the windows on his car with bats and are yelling for him to come outside. Chris steps onto his porch and fires his gun at one of the men, who later dies from his wound.
Courts have previously found that Chris’s use of force here might be justified. The men who had stepped onto his property clearly had a destructive intent, and they had stated their focus to turn it onto Chris himself. Chris was under no duty to retreat, and depending on other facts of the case, could have been acting in what he felt was the most reasonable manner to defend himself.
How to get help in self defense cases
As we’ve seen above, self defense comes down to the evidence at hand and the facts of the case. If you or someone you love has become involved in a self defense case, it is important to speak with a criminal defense attorney who can review the details of your case advise you of your rights and the options available to you.
This can be a nervous and anxious time. Normally law abiding people can find themselves dealing with the criminal justice system for the first time, all for doing what they had to do to keep themselves or someone else safe.
Know that the law is on your side. You are allowed to defend yourself. If you would like a free and confidential review of your case, attorney Robert M. Helfend is available to discuss your options. He has practiced in the Ventura area since 1984 and is rated by SuperLawyers, the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 and Lead Counsel. Call today — 805-273-5611