Self-defense can be a strong defense against criminal allegations involving a crime of violence, like an assault or battery. Arguing self-defense in a criminal case essentially means that you admit to committing a criminal act but clarify that you only did so to protect yourself from harm. If you are wondering whether self-defense is a feasible defense to assault and battery charges, the short answer is yes. In fact, self-defense is probably the most common defense raised by defendants in assault and battery cases. However, it is always a good idea to consult a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney when facing criminal charges for assault, battery or another violent crime, to ensure that you understand all of the defense strategies available to you based on your specific circumstances.
Assault and Battery Charges
We often hear the phrase “assault and battery” used to describe the criminal act of threatening and/or physically assaulting another person. However, assault and battery are actually two distinct offenses under California law, and they can be charged separately or together depending on the specific facts of a criminal case. According to California Penal Code § 240, an assault is “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” Penal Code § 242, on the other hand, describes a battery as “any willful and unlawful use of force or violence upon the person of another.” Put simply, an assault is putting another person in fear of imminent bodily harm by threatening to commit a physical attack, while a battery is the actual act of causing that person physical harm.
What if the Alleged Attack Was Self-Defense?
Self-defense is a countermeasure that involves defending oneself against harm in times of danger. According to the law, you have a right to protect yourself and others against injury at the hands of another person or persons, and in some cases, that may require engaging in behavior that would otherwise be considered a crime. In the state of California, self-defense or defense of others is a valid legal justification for the use of force by a person who reasonably believes that he or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or suffering physical harm. For instance, if someone breaks into your home and threatens to harm or kill you or your loved ones, you have the legal right to use an appropriate degree of force against that person in defense of yourself or anyone else in your home. In this case, self-defense is justified.
Can Self-Defense Be Manslaughter?
Because self-defense involves the use of force, it is commonly used as a defense to assault, battery, criminal homicide, and other crimes of violence. However, claiming self-defense is not as straightforward as it sounds. Just because you say you acted in self-defense does not mean you can automatically avoid criminal charges. If you used physical force against another person and that person dies, you could end up facing charges for manslaughter or possibly even murder if the prosecution can prove that the killing was committed with malice aforethought. With the right defense, however, you may be able to get a murder charge reduced from first-degree to second- or third-degree, or possibly even reduced from murder to manslaughter. If the killing was carried out as an act of self-defense or defense of others, the charges may be dismissed altogether.
Self-Defense in an Assault Case
California law recognizes a person’s right to use force to protect themselves from harm, which means you are permitted to use force against another person if that person is threatening to commit violence against you. For example, if someone comes up to you on the street and threatens to punch you and you reasonably believe you are in danger and use a reasonable amount of force against that person to avoid being hurt, your actions would be justified. What makes the law so complicated is this: You could still be charged with assault for acting in self-defense.
Fortunately, self-defense serves as a legal defense to assault, which means a person accused of assault can argue self-defense to negate the criminal charge. If you have been arrested for assault, but you were protecting yourself or another person from harm when the alleged assault occurred, it is in your best interest to contact an assault defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. A good attorney will ensure that you understand what elements are necessary to establish that you acted in self-defense and will do everything in his or her power to keep you from being punished for defending yourself.
Self-Defense in a Battery Case
Most people think of battery as the use of excessive physical force against another person resulting in serious bodily injury, but in reality, there are many far less aggressive acts that fall under the umbrella of criminal battery. For instance, contact with another person that is angry, offensive, or insulting in nature may constitute a battery, even if the contact does not cause pain or injury. If you believe you are in imminent danger of being intentionally and unlawfully touched in a violent or offensive manner by another person, you are permitted to use reasonable force to prevent the unlawful touching under California’s self-defense law. If you have been accused of committing a battery by using force or violence against another person and you were acting in defense of yourself or someone else at the time, you may have an argument for self-defense.
Self-Defense in a Murder Case
California Penal Code § 187 defines murder as the unlawful killing of another person, with malice aforethought, which is described as a reckless disregard for human life or the deliberate intent to kill or cause great bodily harm. If you have reason to believe that you or someone else is in imminent danger of being killed, you have the legal right to take whatever measures necessary to prevent the killing, including the use of deadly force. In this scenario, the use of deadly force is legally justified, which means self-defense can be used as a defense against a murder charge.
Arguing Self-Defense in a Criminal Case
As mentioned above, self-defense is a criminal defense based on justification. By claiming self-defense in defense of assault and battery or other criminal charges, you are essentially admitting that you committed a crime, but that the crime was justifiable under the circumstances. Successfully arguing self-defense in a criminal case is a delicate undertaking requiring the skill and expertise of a criminal defense attorney who knows exactly how to approach your case to maximize your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
Elements of Self-Defense
In any criminal case, the prosecution bears the burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, which is the highest burden of proof in the criminal justice system. Fighting a criminal charge like assault or battery by asserting that you were acting in self-defense or in defense of others requires that you meet certain elements of the defense. There are three distinct elements to a claim of self-defense that defendants must prove in order for the court to find that the defendant legally acted in self-defense under California law. First, the defendant must show that he or she (or another person) was in “imminent danger” of suffering physical harm. Second, the defendant must show that he or she reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to defend against that danger. Finally, the defendant must show that he or she used only the amount of force that was necessary to defend against that danger and no more.
When Self-Defense Goes Too Far
That third element of a self-defense argument is crucial. If you use physical force against another person because you reasonably believe that a threat of harm exists and the degree of force you use is more than what a reasonable person would consider necessary under the circumstances, the court may find that you did not act in lawful defense of yourself. For instance, if another person threatens to punch you and you respond by stabbing that person with a knife, your actions would likely be considered above and beyond what was reasonably necessary to defend yourself against harm. This is an example of when self-defense goes too far.
Why You Need a Criminal Defense Attorney
Exercising your right to self-defense should never result in criminal charges. However, if in defending yourself or others, you physically harm another person, you could face charges for assault and/or battery, in which case you will have to prove that your behavior was justified under the circumstances. Claiming that you acted in self-defense can help you avoid devastating penalties if you are accused of committing a crime of violence in San Diego, such as assault, battery, domestic violence, or manslaughter. Violent crimes are punished harshly under California law, and a conviction for any of these offenses could have a dramatic impact on your life. If you have been accused of assault, battery, or another violent crime in San Diego and you acted in self-defense, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side to represent your defense.