Self Defense

Self defense is a type legal defense against charges of inflicting harm upon another in various situations. In both Criminal Law and Tort Law, self defense is often used in contested cases concerning homicide, assault, and battery charges, among others.  The use of self defense as a legal defense can be complicated if the person allegedly being defended against is killed, and therefore cannot present his or her account of the particulars of an incident.  While virtually any defendant can implement a self defense argument, defense counsel must prove that such a defense was, indeed, justified.  Moreover, since such a defense is considered an affirmative defense, which means that it is such a defense that could mitigate the consequences of the defendant’s taken actions or exonerate him or her of complete wrongdoing.

In such cases, the burden is shifted away from the Prosecution to the Defense to prove that self defense was justified.  Overall, it is a long-held tenet of our common law system that a person may use reasonable force when threatened with bodily harm, including and especially when threatened with death.  However, whereas one is permitted to defend him or herself, he or she must do so in a reasonable manner.  A central component in ascertaining the reasonableness of said action is whether it is a proportionate response to the threat.  For example, if a person approaches another person with his fist, presumably to punch him in the face, although blunt force trauma can result in death, there’s only a remote chance of that occurring.  So, a response to such a provocation by shooting the other person in the head, knowing that there is a high probability of causing death in such a manner, would be challenged as being unreasonable, and an unjustified use of the self defense claim.  If the individual really felt that he or she need to shoot the other person, another part of the body could have been shot, which would have produced a comparatively minimal injury.

In short, for deadly force to be used, deadly force must be imminent.  If a threat is not a mortal threat, deadly force cannot be legally used to counteract it.  Moreover, while slightly different, individuals can also defend third parties who are in imminent danger, but even in such cases, the previous rules, so to speak, apply.

There are cases in which before using force against an attacker, there is the duty of the person being attacked to flee the situation, if possible, in the hopes of avoiding a violent, or more violent conflict.  Although violence is almost never accepted as a justified reaction to problems, cases where a person is met with a threat of bodily injury or death is the exception.  It is easy to understand why: all individuals have the innate right to protect their lives, to survive by protecting themselves against aggression.

While, as already mentioned, there are situations in which individuals either ought to or must first try to retreat before engaging the other individual(s), Castle Law doctrine, which comes from the English common law system that country adopted during the Colonial Era, is explicit.  Every person’s home is his or her castle, and he or she consequently has dominion over it just as a country has sovereignty.  An intruder in a person’s home can be injured or killed as a matter of self-defense with no repercussion for the homeowner because it is presumed that in the situation of a burglary or home invasion, the intruders are not there to make friends but to harm and potentially kill those in the dwelling.  Therefore, those in the home have the right to survival and thus the right to engage in violence as a matter of self defense.