It is a universally accepted rule that a person may protect themselves from harm under appropriate circumstances, even when that behavior would usually constitute a crime. In the United States legal system, each state allows a defendant to claim self-defense while accused of a violent crime, as does the federal government. The specific rules pertaining to self-defense differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however. This article offers explanations of the broad concepts that make up self-defense law in the US, but you must check the laws of your particular jurisdiction to understand the specific necessities for a claim of self-defense.
Self-defense is defined as the right to prevent suffering force or violence through the use of a adequate level of counteracting force or violence. This definition is simple enough on its face, but it raises various questions when applied to actual situations. For instance, what is a sufficient level of force or violence while defending oneself? What goes beyond that level? What if the intended victim provoked the assault? Do victims have to retreat from the violence if possible? What happens when victims reasonably perceive a threat even if the threat doesn’t really exist? What about when the victim’s apprehension is subjectively genuine, but objectively unreasonable?
- Is the Threat Imminent?
As a general rule, self-defense only justifies the use of force while it is used in response to an immediate threat. The threat can be verbal, as long as it puts the intended victim in an immediate fear of physical injury. Offensive words without an accompanying threat of immediate physical injury, however, do not justify the use of force in self-defense.
- Was the Fear of Harm Reasonable?
Sometimes self-defense is justified even if the perceived aggressor didn’t truly mean the perceived victim any harm. What matters in these situations is whether a reasonable person in the same situation would have perceived an immediate threat of physical harm. The concept of the reasonable person is a legal conceit that is subject to differing interpretations in practice, but it is the lawful system’s best tool to determine whether a person’s perception of imminent danger justified the use of protective force.
- Imperfect Self-defense
Sometimes a person may have a genuine fear of imminent physical harm that is objectively difficult. If the person uses power to defend themselves from the perceived threat, the situation is recognized as faulty self-defense. Defective self-defense does not excuse a person from the crime of using violence, but it may lessen the charges and penalties involved. Not every state recognizes imperfect self-defense, however.
- Proportional Answer
The use of self-defense should also match the level of the threat in question. In other words, a person may just employ as much force as required to remove the threat. If the threat involves deadly force, the person defending themselves may use deadly force to counteract the threat. If, however, the threat involves only minor power and the person claiming self-defense uses force that could cause grievous bodily harm or death, the claim of self-defense will fail. Wrongful deaths resulting in self defense is something you have to take into account. A person can be injured during self defense that possibly could end up in a wrongful death lawsuit. Keep in mind not all the claims are upheld.