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What Is Self-Defense?

You don’t need a law degree to have heard of the concept of self-defense—but what does it really mean? There is more to the concept behind the law of self-defense than you may think. If you or someone you love is charged with a crime involving some sort of assault or other crime for allegedly hurting someone, this defense could be critical to the case.

Justifiable or Excusable—Degrees of Fault

Self-defense is broken into two categories: “justifiable” or “excusable.” The difference is whether the defendant has any “fault” in bringing about the fight—they’re sometimes called “without fault” or “with fault.” With justifiable or “without fault” self-defense, the defendant is able to argue that he or she was entitled to use appropriate force to repel an attack if he was “without fault in provoking or bringing on the difficulty.” This is a pure form of self-defense—where you did nothing at all to cause the problem and you were just acting in a way to protect yourself from suffering harm.

In cases of excusable or “with fault” self-defense, the defendant will have had “some fault in the first place in provoking or bringing on the difficulty” but must (1) retreat from the fight and (2) make his desire for peace known. This means that the evidence shows that you did something to start the fight or problem but decided to change your mind and try to stop the fight. In this defense, you have some degree to fault in bringing on the struggle but that you made it very clear that you wanted out, the other person wouldn’t let you, and you had to take steps to protect yourself.

Eye for an Eye?

In either type of self-defense, the amount of force used to protect yourself must be reasonable or proportional to the danger. This is called “proportionality”—in short, the court usually looks to whether you used the minimum necessary force to protect yourself. You cannot use excessive force to stop the fight, otherwise you risk becoming the “predominant aggressor.” That means, for example, that you can’t shoot someone who spits on you.

The way a self-defense argument is successfully used will depend on the facts of the case—and every case is unique. A skilled trial attorney will know how to properly use the right defense to protect a client during trial. Being able to argue to a jury that the client had no fault in the fight, or that the client had some minor fault but didn’t want the fight to proceed, is a critical part of defending someone. If you or someone you love is in a fight for their life in the courtroom, be sure to find the right attorney to make the best defense.

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