When Can You Claim Self-Defense to Battery?

woman in a self defense stance

Many individuals facing battery charges assert that they were acting in self-defense when they committed the act of physical violence that resulted in the charges, but the laws of California limit when this defense applies. Read on to learn about when acting violently might be legally permissible as self-defense.

An individual charged with a violent crime, such as battery, won’t be found guilty where a California judge or jury determines that the crime was committed as an act of protection, so long as it was reasonable behavior under the circumstances. Whether or not an act was “reasonable under the circumstances” is determined by answering three main questions:

  1. Did the defendant reasonably believe that he or she was in imminent danger of being killed, injured, or touched in an unlawful way?
  2. Did the defendant reasonably believe that he or she needed to use force to prevent being killed, injured our unlawfully touched?
  3. Did the defendant use only the amount of force necessary to prevent the violent act?

These questions attempt to ascertain whether the batterer was justified in believing that a legitimate threat of harm was imminent, and whether their response was proportional to the threat made. Self-defense isn’t available against threats of future harm, since there are steps you can take to prevent that harm other than acts of violence, such as reporting it to the police. For example, if a man was walking toward you from across a room, saying, “I’m going to beat the snot out of you,” you would likely be justified in shoving the man backward over a chair to prevent the harm. However, if a man said, “I’m going to beat the snot out of you if you ever look at my girlfriend like that again,” and you threw a punch at him, a court may be unlikely to find that a justified use of force.

Under California law, victims of threats of bodily harm are not required to retreat from or flee a potentially violent situation rather than use force. That said, if the person who posed a threat is no longer doing so, battery as self-defense is no longer allowed. For example, if the man in the bar who threatened you is grabbed by three people and restrained, you would not be justified in punching that man while he is being held down by others.

Finally, in order to successfully defend against battery charges by claiming self-defense, the violent act should be limited in scale to the threatened violence. If a young child threatens to punch you and walks toward you to do so, you wouldn’t be justified in hitting that child with your full, adult strength, though you might be justified in restraining the child once they got close to you.

There are many other nuances to California’s self-defense laws, as well as additional occasions when a battery may be legally permissible. Speak with an experienced California criminal defense attorney to learn more about the laws as they apply to your case.

If you’ve been arrested on charges of assault, battery, or other violent crimes, retain an attorney who will ensure that you receive fair and just treatment by the court, and contact the Ventura criminal defense lawyer Paul Tyler for a consultation on your case, at 805-889-9000.

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