Everyone has the right to defend themselves. If someone tries to hurt you or your family, the law justifies you 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 facing a murder charge in California for killing someone in self-defense, you must show the court that you were defending yourself against a hostile individual and used necessary force to repel the attack.
Having a Lawyer in Your Corner Could Make a Difference in Your Case
Unless you are an attorney, building a criminal defense can be complex, and your freedom is on the line. Do not leave your future to chance. Consider seeking representation from a criminal defense attorney. Our firm can protect your rights, work to get your charges reduced or eliminated, or represent you in criminal court.
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How Does California Treat Self-Defense Killings?
According to California’s self-defense laws, a person is not guilty of murder or a violent crime if they caused a death or injury to protect themselves or another person. However, the defendant’s conduct must be reasonable under the circumstances, according to California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) No. 505.
Self-defense laws can be quite confusing. Our California criminal defense lawyers know all the ins and out of when a self-defense claim is valid. By hiring our attorneys, you can discover if your self-defense claim is likely to hold up in court or if you need to take a different approach.
What Is Murder?
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 murder if it’s conducted with “malice aforethought,” meaning the perpetrator intended to cause death or grievous bodily harm. Malice aforethought also applies to murder committed during the commission of a felony or resulting from “depraved indifference to human life.”
If there’s no malice, the crime is either voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter.
Excusable and Justifiable Homicide
There are also types of homicide that are not considered crimes at all. In California, the law regards excusable homicide and justifiable homicide as non-criminal. Excusable homicide happens when an individual kills someone without meaning to amid conducting legal behavior.
Meanwhile, justifiable homicide can be intentional, but the reason for killing is good enough that the law will not punish the perpetrator.
California Penal Code 197 touches on justifiable homicide committed by an ordinary citizen. Self-defense is one of the most common forms of justifiable homicide. Most 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 must prove their actions were “reasonable under the circumstances.”
When Can You Use Self-Defense as a Legal Tactic?
Can you go to jail for self-defense in California? That depends. Under California state law, a defendant has 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 is true, the defendant has a valid legal defense and is not liable for a crime.
You can expect the prosecutor to contest the legitimacy of a self-defense case using the following tactics:
- Questioning whether there was the presence of imminent danger
- Questioning whether the defendant’s belief that imminent danger existed was reasonable
- Questioning whether the defendant used more force than necessary
- Alleging the defendant had a duty to retreat
- Alleging the defendant somehow provoked the attack or was the initial aggressor
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What Is the Penalty for Murder in California?
Under California Penal Code 187-199, the penalty for homicide depends on the crime for which you are convicted —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 can land you anywhere from 25 years to life in state prison. However, if your conviction is due to a “hate crime,” you could face a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
- Second-degree murder: 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.
We want to emphasize that excusable and justifiable homicide are not punishable. If a homicide is proven to fall under one of these two categories, the state should dismiss the charges against the defendant, or the accused should be completely acquitted and discharged.
Our attorneys can investigate your charges and help you build a case proving self-defense. We may be able to help you avoid charges, obtain a lesser charge, or prove there are grounds for acquittal during a criminal trial.
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How Do You Prove a Killing Was Committed in Self-Defense?
The issue of self-defense comes up when a defendant acted with the intent of protecting themselves or another individual. Examples of self-defense include fighting back with weapons, your fists, or a firearm.
However, to get your charges dropped or lowered or achieve an acquittal in court, you must provide legal justification for your actions. This means you must show your actions were necessary to prevent yourself or another from getting 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 must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the action taken was not applicable or necessary.
Difference Between Murder, Manslaughter, and Self-Defense
The difference 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 difference of intent between murder, manslaughter, and self-defense. As mentioned, murder requires malice aforethought.
Meanwhile, manslaughter has no malice aforethought, meaning 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 a justified use of force is employed for protection and results in death to the aggressor.
Perfect and Imperfect Self-Defense
In a “perfect” self-defense claim, the defendant rightly took needed or reasonable action to protect themselves or a third party. Therefore, under the law, they are not involved in any wrongdoing.
In an “imperfect” self-defense claim, the defendant operated under an unreasonable belief that deadly force was required, meaning they made a mistake in believing an imminent threat existed.
With an imperfect self-defense case, the prosecutor can claim there was bad behavior on the part of the defendant. This type of offense may result in lesser charges or a lower sentence, but likely not a case dismissal or acquittal.
The California Castle Doctrine and Self-Defense Cases
In situations where a person uses self-defense inside his/her own home, a set of laws known as the Castle Doctrine applies. Under this doctrine, Penal Code 198.5 PC, 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 or 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 of the presumption of fear of imminent harm.
Our Team Will Strengthen Your Self-Defense Claim
You do not want to leave something as important as your freedom to chance. If you committed a killing in self-defense, your actions may be justified under the law. However, you will need to make a case proving you took necessary and reasonable action and defended yourself against allegations of wrongdoing. This can be a challenging task for someone unfamiliar with criminal law, especially during an already stressful time.
No one should serve time in jail for protecting themselves or a loved one. Fortunately, help is available. For more than 15 years, our firm has represented clients from across California. Michael Simmrin and the rest of the legal team can put their years of criminal defense experience to work for you. We will:
- Investigate your case and collect evidence, including expert and eyewitness testimony, physical data from the crime scene, police reports, medical records, photographs, available surveillance footage, and more
- Defend you against allegations of negligence, wrongdoing, or criminal intent
- Fight to have your charges dropped or reduced
- Negotiate with prosecutors to settle your case without going to court
- Prepare your case for trial and represent you throughout legal proceedings if necessary
Contact Simmrin Law Group for Assistance with Your California Self-Defense Case
If you killed someone in self-defense, you are not guilty of murder under California law. However, you will need to prove that you indeed acted out of a reasonable fear of death or bodily harm to yourself or another party. Determining whether you have legal justification for what you did will depend on the details of the case.
A California criminal defense lawyer with our firm can give you 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 for a FREE consultation today.
Call or text (310) 896-2723 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form