Murder and other violent crimes are typically charged as serious felonies. However, there are exceptions to this rule wherein a defendant may have been justified in his or her use of deadly force. This is a type of legal defense known as “self-defense.”
All states allow defendants to claim self-defense. However, states differ on what they consider to be an appropriate use of force and when it is reasonable to use force, including firearms, to protect yourself.
If you use a firearm as a means of self-defense in the state of California, you may be found not guilty if your conduct is decided to have been “reasonable under the circumstances.”
What Kind of Conduct is Considered ‘Reasonable Under the Circumstances’?
For conduct to be considered “reasonable under the circumstances,” it must meet the following criteria:
- You reasonably believed you were in danger of being killed or injured; and
- You reasonably believed you needed to use force to stop this imminent threat; and
- You did not use more force than necessary to control the situation.
Consider the following example. An armed robber breaks into your house and points his gun at you. You pull out your gun and shoot him before he can shoot you, killing him. In this situation, you would be found not guilty of murder because you reasonably believed you were in imminent danger, and you reacted by using deadly force responsibly.
Does This Mean a Person Can Use a Firearm to Protect His or Her Home?
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Under California Penal Code Section 198.5, yes, you can use a firearm to protect your home if you have a reasonable fear of impending danger. You are protected by the law if:
- You know, or are given reason to believe, that the intruder entered your home illegally.
- You have a reasonable fear of death or of the intruder harming you, your family, or another member of your household.
- Neither you nor anyone else in your home provokes the intruder in any way.
Note that a police officer who needs to enter your home as part of doing his job is entering your home legally. This is not the same as an intruder forcing his way into your home to steal your property or cause harm to you and your family.
What If the Attacker Lowers His Gun, But You Shoot Him Anyway Out of Fear? Is That Self-Defense?
If your attacker withdraws from the situation, or if he is injured or otherwise incapable of hurting you, then you are acting unreasonably if you use deadly force against him. An experienced criminal defense attorney in California would be able to help you understand your rights in this type of situation.
When is Self-Defense Considered an Acceptable Legal Defense?
There are several crimes for which self-defense can be considered a legitimate legal defense in the state of California. Some of the more serious crimes include murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and aggravated battery.
If You Start a Fight, and the Fight Escalates, Can You Still Claim Self-Defense?
This is a tricky situation. It depends on the circumstances. A person who starts a fight can still claim self-defense if:
- S/he tries in good faith to stop the fight.
- S/he states or otherwise makes it clear to the other party that s/he wants to stop fighting, and then stops fighting.
- S/he gives the other party the opportunity to end the fight.
A person cannot claim self-defense, however, if he or she deliberately starts a fight as an excuse to use force against the other person.
Is California a ‘Stand Your Ground’ State?
No, however, California does subscribe to the “castle doctrine,” which is similar. Under the castle doctrine, a person is entitled to use deadly force to protect his or her home or workplace, so long as he or she acts reasonably under the circumstances.
The castle doctrine is like stand your ground in that you do not have to attempt to escape before you act. In fact, once you leave your property, you actually forfeit the rights that would have been afforded to you under the castle doctrine.
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