Self-defense means that you have the right to protect yourself by any means necessary if someone is trying to harm you. However, it only applies under certain circumstances. There are times when protecting yourself would normally constitute a crime, but specific factors are in play, then “self-defense” is a defense you can use to prevent being found guilty if you are accused of a crime.
In the US, each state and federal court allows a defendant the right to plead self-defense if they are accused of a violent crime. The rules about what does and does not constitute self-defense vary across jurisdictions. So, although there are generalizations to using the self-defense argument, it really depends on what the local laws stipulate in the jurisdiction where you are accused.
Self-defense can be claimed when you have to prevent another from harming you by means of harming them. It seems simple enough, but things can quickly get complex in criminal trials. You have a right to defend yourself from someone who is violently attacking you by attacking back, but many logistics can muddle the “self-defense” defense.
Things like the level of counter-violence, if the victim was provoked to attack to begin with, if the threat was unrealistically perceived and if the situation was genuinely self-defense or if someone is trying retroactively to change the face of the situation are all factors that can make self-defense indefensible.
To try to make the defense easier to ascertain, states have worked to define specifics related to what self-defense is so that judges and juries can make a fair decision that is based on real-life circumstances, as opposed to theoretical ones.
Self-defense can only be used if the defendant can prove that there was an immediate, or imminent, threat of harm. That threat can be verbal or physical. “Threat” is defined as anything that makes the defendant worry about their own safety. When someone is using verbal threats, it can be much harder to make the connection that there is an immediate threat situation.
Also, according to a criminal defense Seattle attorney, if the threat of force has ended before the victim strikes back, then it is no longer considered self-defense. If the threat is over and the defendant retaliates without imminent additional threat, then it is no longer considered a self-defense issue; at this point it is retaliation, not self-defense.
Was the fear reasonable?
One of the hardest components of pleading self-defense and for the jury to decide if it is viable is the notion of whether the harm inflicted was reasonable. Human beings all react differently to threats; we have varying perceptions of what a “threat” is. This means that what is threatening to one person, especially if they have had violence in their past, may not be perceived as threatening to someone else. There is no way for the jury to put themselves in the shoes of the defendant to really know what their perception of threat was and if it was “reasonable” for that individual to feel threatened.
So, the construct that a jury must use to guide their decision is the idea of a “reasonable person.” They have to decide not based on what the defendant perceived, but based on what any reasonable person would have perceived in the same situation. The jury’s job is to determine what a reasonable person would have done and whether it was reasonable for the person to use force to prevent the perceived threat.
If you are going to use the self-defense defense
If you are going to use the “self-defense” defense, it is important that you understand the complexity of proving your case in a court of law. If you have special circumstances in your past that made you react the way you did, they might or might not be considered depending on the jury. It is best to suggest the “self-defense” defense, but if your attorney doesn’t think that the jury will rule in your favor, then it is best to try to find a better defense to prove your innocence. That is why it is so important to hire the right lawyer to defend you. They are the ones who will be building the defense to keep you from prosecution.