A person is able to protect themselves from immediate harm without being held accountable. When this occurs, it often is said that the person acted in “self defense.” In most cases, if the person had not acted out in self defense, he or she could have been seriously injured or even killed by another person. The legal system of the United States of America allows an individual to claim a crime was done in self-defense. The legal definition of self-defense is “the right to prevent suffering force or violence through the use of a sufficient level of counteracting force or violence.”

I Used Force First
If you were involved in an altercation and used force first, the good news is you still may be able to claim self-defense. Why is this possible? The claim of self-defense still may be appropriate if the actions you took would have been the same actions another reasonable person would have done. This means that if you believed you were going to be physically harmed, it still can be self-defense if you used force to prevent an attack on yourself. You don’t have to wait to be physically harmed first to defend yourself when it comes to self-defense. It is important to note, however, that a person can’t use force on someone else without a very good reason. The force used must be reasonable in light of the threat of harm.

The Type of Force Used is Important
The self-defense laws in California provide that a person only may use a reasonable amount of force when in a situation he or she views as dangerous as a way to protect themselves. The amount of force seen as appropriate depends on the circumstances of the situation. One needs to understand that a defendant who acted in self-defense, but who used more force than was reasonable for self-protection, he or she typically would be found guilty of a crime. This crime could be simple assault or even murder, depending on how unappropriate the force used was. For example, if a person shows you a gun and threatens to shoot, it would be OK to use force first to protect yourself. However, if a person says he is going to punch you, it would typically not be OK to pull out a gun and shoot this individual and claim it was done in self-defense.

An Example of Appropriate Self-Defense
To better understand when it is OK to strike first and still successfully claim self-defense consider the following example. Say Adam and George are involved in a car accident. Upon exiting their vehicles, Adam and George begin to verbally argue over who is at fault for the collision. As the discussion advances, it gets more heated. Then, Adam decides to form a fist and waves it at George. George believes Adam is about to strike him and cause physical harm. This fear causes George to take Adam to the ground and hold his arms behind his back. A reasonable person in this situation most likely also would believe that Adam was going to hit George. Since an individual does not have to wait to be struck first to protect him or herself, George acted out in self-defense and is not guilty of a crime.