Understanding The Necessary Legal Elements Of Self-Defense

If you live in a high-crime area, or you are in an abusive relationship, you may wonder what would happen if you harmed or killed someone in self- defense. While it may be tempting to imagine various ways of "taking care of the problem," this particular legal defense is centered on unavoidable circumstances, and it is not to be used in a planned act of vigilante justice as a "get-out-of-jail-free card." The following examples illustrate some important points about this defense. 

Example #1

A couple were having an argument in their apartment. The man began punching and hitting his live-in lover and wouldn't stop. He also began choking her as they passed through the kitchen struggling, and the woman grabbed a knife. As the man kept attacking her she became afraid for her life, so she stabbed him once in the chest. He fell back and she ran to a neighbor's apartment and called the police.

It turned out the knife pierced his aorta and the man died.

When someone commits an unplanned violent act but it truly is in self-defense, this is a valid criminal defense. In this situation, you would need to prove:

  • That you felt threatened with bodily harm,

  • That this threat was a reasonable one,

  • You had no alternative, and

  • You did not use excessive force that was above what was required to stop the threat.

In the first example, the threat for harm was real and reasonable, and the woman, Faith Martin, didn't have any other choices. Ms. Martin stopped using the weapon once she felt the threat was reduced, and she called for help. Even though she was charged with murder of Willie J. Arrington, she was eventually acquitted because it was shown in court that her defense met these legal standards.

Example #2

Here is a second real-life scenario:

A man named Bryon Smith lived alone, and one day he heard some intruders breaking into his house. His property had been burglarized several times before, and he was understandably angry. This day was going to be different: he was prepared. He picked up his loaded rifle and shot the thief who was entering his house. When he checked the person, he realized the young man were either unconscious or dead.

He knew there was a second intruder who was following the first. As she came in, Smith shot the young woman with the rifle. He then shot both people again with a handgun to make sure they were dead. After that, he waited until the next day to call the police.

If you were in this situation, you may be justified in shooting an intruder breaking in your home, especially if you live in an area where crime is rampant and police are slow to respond. The question is: Could you have instead told the person you had a gun and then held the person at gunpoint until the police came? This would come under alternatives.

The second intruder, Haile Kifer, would have probably fled the scene when she heard the first shot, but she was concerned about her cousin, a seventeen year old named Nick Brady. She was not attempting to assault anyone, or use a weapon, so these actions also fail the self-defense requirements.

The fact that Mr. Smith made it appear that he wasn't home while preparing for the inevitable break-in indicated he knew their intent was simple burglary and theft, but not assault. This made it evident that the threat was not proportional to his self-defense claim. It was also troubling to the court that the homeowner waited so long to call the police.

Legal Representation

If you were ever arrested for harming someone in self-defense, you would need to discuss your case with an attorney like Irene M Rodriguez PA. To be successful with this defense, you need to prove that you were faced with a serious physical and reasonable threat, you had no alternative but to defend yourself in this manner, and you stopped once the threat was over.

About Me

Fascinating Legal Problems

There’s a reason why there are so many legal procedural shows on television these days. The law can be an intriguing thing. Going to court isn’t usually something that you look forward to, but having the court system available is definitely a positive thing. You never know when you may need to use it for one reason or another. I’ve found, as a legal professor, that taking a look at interesting cases in different areas of the law is the best way to help my students understand their subject. I’m hoping this blog will give you an idea of how the court system can work for you by giving you at glimpse at some fascinating cases and the laws behind them.