October 24, 2023
The recent case in which a 17-year-old shot a 19-year-old man in the abdomen in defense of another person raises the question of when self-defense is justified. According to police, the teen fired the weapon in an attempt to defend someone during a fight in a Humiston Beach Park parking lot. Two large groups of people had gathered at the location and a fight broke out. During the fight, the 17-year-old shot the 19-year-old to protect another person.
Originally police had announced charges were pending, however, Surveillance footage from shops and businesses revealed what had occurred, backing up the 17-year-old’s version of events.
Self-defense is a fundamental concept in criminal law that allows individuals to protect themselves, others, or their property from imminent harm by using a reasonable amount of force, including deadly force, when necessary. The legal principles surrounding self-defense vary by jurisdiction, but they generally aim to strike a balance between an individual’s right to protect themselves and the necessity of preventing unjustified violence. In this article, we will explore the use of self-defense as a defense in criminal charges, examining the key legal principles and their implications.
The Basics Of Self-Defense
Self-defense is a legal doctrine that justifies the use of force by an individual to protect themselves or others from a perceived threat of bodily harm or death. The central elements of self-defense often include:
- Imminent Threat: The threat must be immediate, meaning that the danger was imminent and the person had a reasonable belief that they or someone else was in immediate danger.
- Proportional Force: The force used in self-defense must be proportionate to the threat. In other words, it should not exceed what is reasonably necessary to neutralize the threat.
- Reasonable Belief: The individual must have had a genuine and reasonable belief that using force was necessary to protect themselves or others.
Duty To Retreat Vs. Stand Your Ground
One of the fundamental distinctions in self-defense law is whether a jurisdiction follows the “duty to retreat” or “stand your ground” doctrine:
- Duty to Retreat: In jurisdictions that adhere to the duty to retreat, individuals are generally required to make reasonable efforts to avoid the threat or seek safety before resorting to force. Deadly force is typically considered a last resort.
- Stand Your Ground: Conversely, “stand your ground” laws, which are prevalent in some jurisdictions, remove the duty to retreat. In such areas, individuals are not legally obligated to attempt to escape or avoid the threat before using force in self-defense.
The Use Of Deadly Force
Using deadly force, which includes the use of lethal weapons such as firearms, knives, or other dangerous weapons, is a significant escalation in self-defense cases. To successfully claim self-defense when deadly force is involved, a defendant generally needs to demonstrate that:
- The threat was imminent and posed a risk of death or serious bodily harm.
- The use of deadly force was a reasonable response to the threat.
- The individual had a genuine belief in the need for self-defense.
The Burden Of Proof
In cases where self-defense is asserted, the burden of proving the defense typically falls on the defendant. In other words, the defendant must present evidence showing that it is more likely than not that they acted in self-defense. This burden is often referred to as a “preponderance of the evidence.”
Reasonableness Of Belief
The reasonableness of a person’s belief in the need for self-defense is a critical factor in determining the validity of the defense. Courts typically assess whether a reasonable person, in the same situation and with the same information, would have believed that using force was necessary to protect themselves or others.