It is well known that a person has the right to protect themselves from immediate harm, even though the action taken typically would be viewed as a crime. When this occurs, it often is said that the act was done in “self-defense” to avoid serious injury to him or herself or even death. The legal system of the United States of America allows an individual to claim a crime, often a violent 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.” Proving a crime was done out of “self-defense” is more complicated than it may appear, however.

Proving “Self-Defense”
There are plenty of questions that arise when a defendant is claiming “self-defense” for the reason for the behavior in question. Who started the quarrel? How much force did the defendant use on the victim? These are examples of the questions that often need to be addressed during a self-defense case. It is important to note, however, a defendant claiming “self-defense” commonly doesn’t have to prove the forced using in the situation was appropriate. The criminal defense attorney representing the defendant claiming “self-defense” will have to establish evidence that shows a crime was done out of “self-defense,” though. The prosecution, however, has the responsibility of proving to the jury that the force used was not justified.

The Force Used Matters
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 primarily depends on the circumstances of the situation. A defendant who acts in self-defense, but who uses more force than is reasonable for self-protection, is typically 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 woman, slaps a man across his face during a heated argument, it would not be appropriate for that man to use a gun to shoot the woman and then claim his actions were done in “self-defense.”

Was the Fear Reasonable for the Use of Force?
Commonly, “self-defense” only justifies the use of force when it is used in response to an immediate threat. The threat can be verbal, as long as it truly put the intended victim in fear of immediate physical harm. Offensive words without a threat of immediate physical harm, however, would not justify the use of force when claiming “self-defense,” however.

What matters in “self-defense” situations is whether a “reasonable man” in the same situation would have perceived an immediate threat of physical harm and used force to counteract what may have followed. It is the duty of legal system ultimately to determine whether a person’s perception of imminent danger justified the use of protective force.