Everyone has the right to defend themselves. If someone tries to hurt you or your family, you are justified in fighting back and using force to protect yourself. Unfortunately, defending yourself can sometimes go too far, and you could end up killing your attacker.
Each state has different interpretations of self-defense killings. To avoid being charged with murder in California for killing someone in self-defense, you must show the court that you were defending yourself against a hostile individual and the force you utilized was justified to repel the attack.
How Does California Treat Self-Defense Killings?
According to California’s self-defense laws, a person cannot be charged or found guilty of murder or a violent crime if said action was done to protect oneself or another person. However, the conduct should be judged as “reasonable under the circumstances.”
Self-defense laws can be quite confusing. An experienced criminal defense lawyer in Burbank, CA, knows all the ins and out of when a self-defense claim is valid. By hiring an attorney, you can discover if your self-defense claim is likely to hold up in court or if you need to take a different approach.
The act of killing another individual is legally referred to as a homicide. It’s treated as one of the more severe crimes. Homicide is considered to be murder if it’s conducted with “malice aforethought.” If there’s no malice, the crime is categorized as either voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
There are also types of homicide that are not considered a crime at all. In California, excusable homicide and justifiable homicide are regarded as non-criminal. The former happens when an individual kills someone without meaning to in the midst of conducting legal behavior.
Meanwhile, death in the latter can be intentional, but the reason is good enough that the law will not punish the perpetrator.
Penal Code 197 PC touches on justifiable homicide committed by an ordinary citizen. Self-defense is one of the most common forms of justifiable homicide. The majority of states allow justified homicide when someone is defending themselves or another person from threats of crimes like armed robbery, murder, and rape.
However, the defendant has to prove their actions were “reasonable under the circumstances,” even if they used a firearm when defending themselves.
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When Can Self-Defense Be Used as a Legal Tactic?
Under California state law, a defendant is said to have legally acted in self-defense if he/she:
- Reasonably believed that he/she was in “imminent danger” of suffering bodily injury
- Reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that reasonable fear of imminent peril
- Used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger
If the above are true, the defendant has a valid legal defense, and is not liable for a crime.
You can expect the prosecutor to question the legitimacy of said self-defense by making points about any of the following:
- The presence of imminent danger
- Whether or not a reasonable belief that a threat existed
- The idea of “no more force than necessary”
- Whether there was a duty to retreat
- What happened with the initial aggressor
What Is the Penalty for Homicide in California?
Under California Penal Code 187, the penalty for homicide depends on what you have been convicted of—capital murder, first-degree murder, or second-degree murder.
- Capital murder: As the most serious of charges under the state’s murder law, the punishment is either the death penalty (via lethal injection or the gas chamber) or imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole (LWOP).
- First-degree murder: A conviction could land you anywhere from 25 years to life in a state prison. However, if your conviction was due to a “hate crime,” you could face a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
- Second-degree murder: Being convicted of this crime can lead to a 15-year prison term or life in prison. Certain circumstances like killing someone in a drive-by-shooting, killing a police officer or having a previous murder conviction, can increase your sentence anywhere from 25-years to life without parole.
It should be emphasized that excusable and justifiable homicide is not punishable. If the homicide is proven to fall under the two categories, the charges against the defendant should be dismissed, or the accused be completely acquitted and discharged.
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How Do You Prove It Was Self-Defense?
The issue of self-defense comes up when a defendant acted with either the intent of causing the death of another individual or taking part in an action that resulted in that individual’s death. Examples of self-defense include fighting back with weapons or your fist or shooting someone to protect one’s self and causing the death of someone else in the process.
However, these actions, or the force used in these actions, should be justified. This means the defendant believes within reason that their actions were necessary to prevent being killed, kidnapped, raped, or receiving serious bodily injuries.
The burden of proof in self-defense cases lies on the prosecutor. If the evidence supports a self-defense legal angle, the prosecutor has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the action taken was not applicable or necessary.
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Difference Between Murder, Manslaughter, and Self-Defense
The differences between murder, manslaughter, and self-defense is spending 20 years in jail versus being incarcerated for the rest of your life.
There also is the different of intent between murder, manslaughter, and self-defense. Murder requires malice aforethought where it was planned and executed. Meanwhile, manslaughter has no malice aforethought. There was no premeditation and the defendant never considered killing. The death occurred either during the heat of the moment, or because of negligence.
However, self-defense is when death was caused by a justified use of force. In an ideal self-defense claim, the defendant believes that the action taken was needed or reasonable in order to protect themselves or a third party. The defendant is not involved in any wrongdoing.
In an imperfect self-defense claim, the defendant operated under an unreasonable belief that deadly force was required. It can be claimed that there was bad behavior on the part of the defendant.
California Castle Doctrine
In situations where a person uses self-defense inside his/her own home, a set of laws known as the Castle Doctrine is put into place. Under this doctrine, there is no duty to retreat if you confront an intruder inside your home.
In addition, you have the right to use deadly force (in self-defense) inside your home when someone uses force to break in, under Penal Code 198.5 PC, when you have reasonable fear of imminent harm.
An example of this would be if an individual broke into your home in the middle of the night and you reached into your bedside table to grab your legal, licensed handgun. You are legally allowed to fire the weapon at the intruder in self-defense, or in defense of someone else in your home, because you are presumed to be in fear of imminent harm.
Contact Experienced Criminal Defense Counsel at Simmrin Law Group
Did you kill someone in self-defense? Determining whether you were justified in what you did will depend on the details of the case. You will need the services of an excellent criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles who can give you solid advice on the legalities of the situation and what steps you should take.
The attorneys at Simmrin Law Group can put together a sound legal strategy to help you keep your freedom. Call or fill out our contact form to schedule a FREE consultation today.