California Self Defense Laws

In California, you have the right to defend yourself and others against imminent harm. If you have been arrested for using force or violence against another person, but were only protecting yourself, the attorneys at the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC can help. Our San Diego criminal defense attorneys understand that using force to protect yourself is sometimes necessary. Proving that you acted in self defense can protect you from any consequences that may result from your actions.

Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to schedule a free consultation. Our defense attorneys will review your case and explain what is required to establish that you acted in self-defense. We will fight to make sure that you are not punished for simply acting in your own defense.

What is Self Defense?

Self defense means using force to protect yourself from danger. When you argue self defense, you admit to engaging in behavior that is, under other circumstances, against the law. This is known as an affirmative defense. You admit to committing a crime, but explain that you only did so to protect yourself.

In other words, your argument is based on the fact that if you had not engaged in the use of force or violence, you (or someone else) would have been harmed in some way.

When Can I Act in Self Defense?

In California, you have the right to act in self defense when you have a reasonable belief that you are in danger. The use of force may be justified when you have a reasonable belief that you are about to be physically harmed in some way. Examples of when self-defense may be appropriate include the imminent threat of:

  • Rape
  • Murder
  • Mayhem
  • Robbery, or
  • Any other act that puts you at risk of suffering great bodily harm.

Establishing Self Defense

In order to successfully establish that you acted in self defense, California law requires you to prove each of the following things:

  1. You had a reasonable belief that you were in imminent danger of suffering harm or death,
  2. You had a reasonable belief that using force was necessary to prevent such harm, and
  3. You only used an amount of force that was necessary to stop the threat.

Imminent Danger

Imminent danger means a threat that is happening right now at this very moment. Imminent danger must be current and immediate. Danger that is perceived to be an issue in the near future or at some other point in time will not be considered imminent.

You only have the right to justify the use of force or violence when danger is imminent.

Reasonable Belief

You must have a reasonable belief that (1) danger is imminent, and (2) force is necessary to protect yourself. When is a belief considered to be reasonable?

Whether or not a belief is reasonable is a question of fact. A jury will consider what a reasonable person would have done if they had been in your exact situation. If that person would have acted similarly, your actions will be considered reasonable. If that person would not have reasonably believed that there was a threat, or that force was necessary, your actions will not be considered reasonable.

Proportionate Force

The degree of force used to protect yourself must be proportionate to the danger you face. For example, it would not be justified to use deadly force to protect yourself from a simple assault and battery. The level of force used must simply be sufficient to stop the imminent threat of danger.

Is deadly force ever permitted? Yes. You may be justified in using deadly force if your own life is in danger, someone else’s life is in danger, and/or someone forcibly breaks into your home.

Self Defense of Others

California law not only permits you to act in defense of yourself, but in the defense of others, as well. In order to establish that you acted in self defense of another person, you must prove you had a reasonable belief that force was necessary to protect another person from an imminent threat of danger.

The degree of force used to protect another person must be proportionate to the threat of danger posed in that moment.

Does California Have a Duty to Retreat?

Some states require you to retreat or flee from harm before resorting to the use of force in self defense. California, however, embraces the idea of standing your ground. Stand Your Ground laws acknowledge that you do not have to retreat when faced with imminent danger.

California does not have a dedicated Stand Your Ground Law. However, jury instructions presented in CALCRIM 505 do not require juries to consider whether or not you had the ability to escape danger.

Can I Protect Myself in My Home?

You have the right to be free from harm and threats of danger when you are inside of your own home. If someone forcibly breaks into your home, this right is infringed. California’s Castle Doctrine explains that you have the right to use deadly force to protect yourself and your family in the event of a break in.

California Penal Code 198.5 PC explains that a reasonable threat of imminent danger will automatically be presumed if:

  1. A person, other than a family member, forcibly breaks into and enters your home, and
  2. You had knowledge of this forcible break-in.

You do not have to seek safety or retreat before resorting to the use of force. In fact, you can even pursue the attacker with force until the threat against you no longer exists.

Can I Argue Self Defense If I Started a Fight?

Self-defense is usually only a valid argument when you are not the initial aggressor. This means that you are simply reacting to another person’s aggressive and dangerous behavior. If you started a fight, you are generally prohibited from using the argument of self defense if something goes wrong.

However, you may be able to argue self defense successfully if:

  1. You clearly indicated that you wanted to stop the fight and made a good faith effort to do so, or
  2. The other person, after being attacked with non-deadly force, used deadly force against you.

What is Imperfect Self Defense?

Imperfect self defense means that your belief of danger or the need to use force to protect yourself was not reasonable. In some situations, you may be able to reduce the seriousness of the charges against you by arguing imperfect self defense.

Example: You witnessed what you believed to be an altercation between two people in a park. You saw one of those people reach into his pocket and draw out an object that you believed was a knife. You fatally attacked that person in an effort to protect the other person from harm. As it turns out, there was never a threat of danger. In fact, the two people were acting out a scene from a play. The person you killed simply reached into his pocket to check the time on his phone. Your use of force was not reasonable. You may be able to argue imperfect self defense because you made an honest mistake. If successful, you may be able to downgrade charges for murder to charges for manslaughter.

Need More Help?

Are you facing criminal charges in San Diego for using force against another person? Were you acting in defense of yourself or another person? Call San Diego criminal defense attorney Vikas Bajaj for help proving that you acted in self defense. Successful self defense arguments can help you escape criminal liability for your otherwise unlawful actions.

You have the right to act in defense of yourself and others. However, you must prove that you acted reasonably and used an appropriate level of force. Hiring an attorney to handle your defense helps to ensure that your argument is successful. Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC today to request a free consultation and learn more.