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California Self-Defense Laws

Posted by Sam Israels | Jan 07, 2020

California's self-defense laws allow you to protect yourself in certain situations. By law, you can't be guilty of a violent crime that you may have committed in order to protect yourself, as long as the conduct was “reasonable under the circumstances.”

This primary factor is often aggressively debated by defense attorneys in all California criminal courthouses. In other words, it's using self-defense as a legal defense for clients who have been accused of a crime.

Using a self-defense argument means you had a reasonable belief you were in imminent danger of being injured or killed, and believed force was necessary to prevent harm, and you didn't use any more force than necessary.

For example, domestic violence cases and other crimes, such as brandishing a weapon, there is often a debate about using self-defense in order to justify behavior in a specific situation. When police officers arrive at a scene of an alleged crime, they don't normally consider whether it could be a case of self-defense.

While they might make note of a potential self-defense action in their report, they will defer any decisions to the District Attorney's Office, who will make any final decision.

For example, a scenario of a potential self-defense argument includes a situation where somebody is walking through a park and suddenly confronted by a man who is holding a knife and demanding money.

The victim pulls a gun from their waistband and shoots the man, who dies later at the hospital. In this scenario, the victim who shot and killed the robber would probably not face prosecution for Penal Code 187 murder because they were acting in self-defense of imminent danger.

If you are in a situation of facing a reasonable threat of being injured or killed, you are not legally required to attempt a retreat from the scene. Rather, you have the legal right to defend yourself or another person.

To give readers a better understanding on the self-defense laws, our defense lawyers are providing an overview below.

The Castle Doctrine

California is not a stand your ground state, but it does recognize the “castle doctrine,” which can apply to your home or business. This means you can use deadly force to protect property, and that there is no legal duty to retreat.

It should be noted this right ends once the person is no longer on your property, and that any force used has to be proportionate to the harm reasonably feared.

California Penal Code 198.5 states you are allowed to use deadly force within your own home if you had a reasonable fear of imminent danger or great bodily injury.

CALCRIM 505 Jury Instructions provides an outline of what a defendant has to establish in order to make a successful argument of self-defense.

If someone unlawfully forces their way into your home, then the following factors have to occur for your conduct to be considered justifiable use of deadly force:

  • A reasonable belief somebody unlawfully entered your home
  • Intruder was acting unlawfully and not provoked
  • A reasonable fear of injury or death to yourself or family

Clearly, many situations of self-defense can happen outside your home. Under California law, you have the right to use deadly force in self-defense, which is commonly called “justifiable homicide.”

Justifiable homicide, defending against harm to person within home or on property, is described under CALCRIM 506 Jury Instructions. It states that jurors are told to find someone innocent of homicide charges if they acted “reasonably” under the circumstances:

  • Defendant had a reasonable belief of being injured or killed, and
  • A belief force was necessary to prevent it
  • Defendant didn't use more force than necessary

Again, you are not required to flee the scene if you are faced with a reasonable threat of being injured or killed.

A self-defense argument is often used in a wide range of California crimes, such as murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and aggravated assault. However, it's crucial to note that in order to use a self-defense argument, it must be proven you were in imminent danger.

In other words, it must be shown you were about to be injured, killed, or raped, meaning it was immediately.

Imminent Danger 

A self-defense argument can't be valid unless you reasonably believed there was imminent danger. This means the danger was an immediate or present threat. The danger has to exist right now.

Reasonable Belief a Threat Exists

A self-defense argument also includes that you must reasonably believe a threat exist, but your belief doesn't have to be correct, reasonable and honest. A jury will consider all relevant circumstances.

Justifiable Force

A successful self-defense argument means you usually only permitted to use a level of force necessary to prevent the perceived threat of harm and you only used enough force to defend yourself.

Self-Defense of Others

You also have the legal right to protect others, but you must be able to prove they were imminent danger, and you only used reasonable force necessary to prevent harm, only an amount of force necessary to prevent harm.

Common California Self-Defense Crimes

There are a variety of California crimes when our criminal defense attorneys will closely examine whether we could argue a self-defense claim, including:

If you were charged with a crime where a self-defense argument is a reasonable challenge, our Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can help you.

We need to first closely examine all the details and circumstances in order to determine whether we might be able to successfully use a self-defense against the charges. Cron, Israels & Stark is a criminal defense law firm with a record of success. Our office is located at 11755 Wilshire Blvd, 15th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90025. 

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About the Author

Sam Israels

Sam J. Israels is a Law Firm partner with the Law Offices of Cron, Israels, & Stark. Mr. Israels received his J.D. degree from the Santa Clara University School of Law. Mr. Israels also previously worked at the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney. He is admitted to practice law in the State o...

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