Oftentimes clients call confused as to why they are being charged with an assaultive crime (assault and battery, domestic violence, etc.) when they believed that they were acting in self-defense. The police have to respond to allegations of violence, and where somebody alleges that they were attacked that will generally be sufficient to get a case brought into court. Sometimes one party will be charged (often the case) and other times both will.
Self-defense is one of the most common defenses in criminal law, and where the defense is successfully put forth it negates a crime of violence. Where we can show that our client acted in self-defense, the prosecution then faces a greater burden at trial. The prosecution must then show beyond a reasonable doubt that the assaultive crime occurred and moreover show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant didn't act in self-defense. The following elements must be shown in order to establish a valid self-defense claim.
1) The defendant must have truthfully believed that the aggressor was going to use physical force against him, her, or a third person. So long as non-lethal force was applied the defendant need not have believed the aggressor was using deadly force.
2) Objectively, the belief of an imminent attack on the defendant must be reasonable. This means that neutrally looking at the defendant's actions his or her belief that force was going to be used was a rational belief.
3) The defendant honestly thought the amount of force used was appropriate.
4) Objectively, somebody would find that the defendant used an appropriate amount of force.
This is a pretty classic objective/subjective test - meaning that it must be shown the defendant thought his or her actions were reasonable and further that they were objectively reasonable. If the above elements are shown, self-defense is established, and the defendant is not guilty of the assault crime. Nonetheless, if prosecution shows the following, a self-defense case will fail.
1) That the belief of force or force used by the defendant was unreasonable.
2) That the defendant was the initial aggressor.
3) There was an agreement by both parties to enter into a fight.
4) If more force than necessary was used by the defendant to subdue the initial aggressor.
The following are factors that our office will evaluate in building a self defense case;
1) The relative size of the aggressor to the victim;
2) If the aggressor has a history of violence;
3) Any military or martial arts training;
4) The presence/threat of a weapon;
5) Whether there were multiple aggressors;
6) Social media activity including taunts/threats;
7) And/or prior threats by the aggressor.
Practically speaking what does this mean? The defendant must not have started the fight, must have honestly thought he or she was about to be attacked, and used only enough force to protect him or herself. Oftentimes people being charged with assault DO have valid self-defense claims. If you are being charged with such a crime you would be wise to contact an attorney to discuss the circumstances of your case and evaluate the merits of a possible self-defense claim.