Over the course of years arguing about the law, lawyers and judges have developed lots of different rules, and even more exceptions to those rules. While this can turn the answer of even the simplest legal question into a series of “but ifs,” and “it depends on whethers,” these exceptions are often good ideas that go a long ways to make sure that justice is done properly.
Self-defense is one of these exceptions. It's illegal to assault, hurt, or kill someone. But if you do any of these out of self-defense, then your actions might fall into the exception to this rule, and you won't be charged with a crime because what you did was justified under the circumstances. This allows people to take action to defend themselves and preserve their own life, rather than having to wait for help to arrive, out of fear that they might be charged with a crime for doing something to stop the attack.
What “self-defense” means, however, is complex. It has to be, or else people would use it as an excuse in situations where it really doesn't apply. So, if someone pulls out a gun and it's clear that they're about to shoot you or someone else, then it's self-defense for you to draw a gun and shoot them. But if they only pulled out their gun because you started attacking them with a knife, then it would not be self-defense for you to then draw your own firearm. That would make it justifiable to kill someone, in self-defense, even if you were the aggressor in the situation. After all, one of major limiting factors of self-defense is preventing the aggressor from claiming self-defense in most situations.
Additionally, the amount of force that you use in self-defense has to be in tune with the circumstances, as well. If you're legally carrying a concealed weapon, and someone makes it clear that they want to punch you, but does not brandish their own weapon, then it's not self-defense to use deadly force to protect yourself. In addition, you can't escalate the situation in order to justify self-defense.
If you have the option of either using force to defend yourself, or retreating from the situation, then any force that you use will not be considered self-defense, because you would have had other options to stay safe. However, this is not the case if you're already in your own house – you're allowed to use force to protect your home. This is called the “Castle Doctrine,” and we'll delve into more detail, in our next blog post.
If you've been charged with a violent crime, like assault, manslaughter, or even murder, a successful claim of self-defense can lead to an acquittal. Attorney William T. Bly is a criminal defense attorney in Biddeford, Maine, with experience defending clients against all kinds of criminal charges. Self-defense is one of the ways he's built a reputation as a solid defense attorney. Call his law office at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online if you think you were justifiably defending yourself.