According to California Penal Code 198, a killing is illegal when it is based on a “bare fear” only. Any person who commits a homicide must reasonably believe there was an imminent danger of great bodily injury or death.
If you are being charged with murder in California in a case where you only acted in self-defense as defined by CA Penal Code Section 198, you need a lawyer as soon as possible. Here is what you need to know.
California PC 198: Self-Defense Killings, Explained
The complete section of California Penal Code Section 198 is pretty straightforward. It reads as follows:
“A bare fear of the commission of any of the offenses mentioned in subdivisions 2 and 3 of Section 197, to prevent which homicide may be lawfully committed, is not sufficient to justify it. But the circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person, and the party killing must have acted under the influence of such fears alone.”
What it means is that bare fear is not enough justification for killing somebody in self-defense.
The section also mentions that to use “self-defense” in a trial, the person needs to reasonably believe that they were in imminent danger of great bodily harm or even death and that the only way to prevent it was through using deadly force.
Consequences of California Penal Code Section 198: Self-Defense Killings
If a person kills someone without a reasonable justification and based only on a bare fear, they can be charged with first-degree murder. That means penalties can go up to life in prison, sometimes without the possibility of parole.
Is It Legal to Kill Someone in Self-Defense in California?
The state of California considers legal the use of lethal force in self-defense only under certain conditions:
- The person who defends themselves believes they or someone they love were in imminent danger of being injured, killed, or forced to commit a crime against their will.
- The person believed using immediate lethal force was necessary to prevent the danger.
- They didn’t use more force than was reasonably necessary against the alleged attacker.
How to Know if There Was a Reasonable Belief or Not
All the circumstances surrounding the case are relevant to determine if it was a self-defense killing, as stated in the California Penal Code Section 198.
For instance, the defendant knew the attacker had a record, or “it was known” that the attacker used to become violent when drunk.
What makes a belief “reasonable” is the question: Would any other reasonable person in a similar situation have reached the same belief, given the information the defendant had when the events occurred?
If the answer is yes, you have a reasonable belief.
What Happens if It Is Not a Reasonable Belief?
Let’s say the defendant believed the threat level was enough to use lethal force, but it was not. In that case, it is considered imperfect self-defense.
That means the killing would still be unlawful, but it will be considered done without malice aforethought. In that case, the defendant cannot be charged with first-degree murder but still can be found liable for second-degree murder or manslaughter.
It is important to note that the information doesn’t need to be right for a belief to be reasonable.
Maybe your wife shot your plumber because he was a new hire, she hadn’t seen him before, and she genuinely believed he was breaking in. Even if her belief was wrong, she didn’t know that when she felt threatened.
Was the Danger Imminent?
Another determining factor is that the danger has to be imminent. It will not suffice if you think the danger was in the near future.
Let’s say you argue with your neighbor, and they threaten to kill you “while you sleep.” So, you get in, take your gun, and go out to shoot them. That will not be considered self-defense.
What Is “More Force Than Necessary”?
Any amount of force or malice that can be seen as more than necessary to stop the aggressor will interfere with a self-defense claim.
If you already disarm or neutralize a thief that broke into your home, and then you just shoot them, that will not be taken as self-defense.
I Am Being Charged With Murder, but It Was a Self-Defense Killing. What Should I Do Now?
People get convicted every day only for defending themselves or those they love. And a prepared criminal defense lawyer is often the difference between being charged with first-degree murder and being able to claim self-defense.
If you are afraid you will be prosecuted under California Penal Code Section 198 for a self-defense killing, contact Simmrin Law Group. There is always someone ready to hear your story.