Assault of Self-Defense? Drawing the Line in California Law

Everyone in the country is guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and “the pursuit of happiness,” which includes protection from undue harm. Along this line of legal thinking, you have the right to try to stop violent acts against you or someone else, even if you have to act violently in return. This is a legal gray area, though, and you have to be certain of your actions and motivation. Otherwise, what you think is self-defense could be interpreted by a court as assault or murder, depending on the details of the situation.

When You Can Act in Self-Defense in California

You have the right to “stand your ground” in California when presented with danger, which means you do not have any legal obligation to try to escape first. It is up to you to decide if the threat of violence should be returned with violent self-defense.

However, proving that the threat was real is where the line can get blurry in self-defense or assault cases. In California, you can only use self-defense actions of violence when you “reasonably believed” that you or someone else was in “imminent danger” of injury, maiming, sexual assault, or death due to the actions of the offender. You must also have reason to believe that force was the only possible way to ensure the feared violent consequences would not happen. Lastly, you may never use more force than needed to stop an offender from harming you or someone else. It is also worth noting that self-defense in California does not include defense of your property, no matter how valuable it may be.

Example 1: Lawful Self-Defense

A man is approached in a dark alleyway by a stranger, who wields a knife. The stranger demands his “wallet or else.” Upon denying the robbery attempt, the stranger takes a step forward. The man draws a pistol, takes a shot, and kills the robber. This action would likely be seen as lawful self-defense since the man was alone, saw a weapon, and was threatened.

Example 2: Unlawful Self-Defense Turned to Assault

A man is approached by a stranger, who immediately begins to assault him with his bare hands. The man manages to knock down the stranger, who is stunned and cannot stand up. Instead of running away or seeking help, the man continues to strike the stranger, beating him unconscious and causing him to suffer severe wounds. This situation could be considered assault by the man who tried to defend himself, as it could be argued that it was no longer reasonable to use violence to stop violence after the stranger was incapacitated.

Defending Yourself from Accusations of Assault

Did you use self-defense to protect yourself from harm but ended up being the one charged with assault or another violent crime? Our Riverside County criminal defense attorneys from Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich can come to your aid to stand up for your rights, clear your name, and shield you from the misplaced judgement of the criminal justice system. Call (951) 506-6654 to add a free initial consultation with our team to your calendar.


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