Four Important Things To Know About Self Defense And Criminal Charges

If you have been charged with battery, assault, manslaughter, or murder, but your actions were to defend yourself or someone else, you will probably be claiming self defense as your defense at trial. Here are 4 things you should know about this type of defense.

1. Self defense may mean more work for you and your attorney.

In a trial, you are presumed innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, so much of the defense would be primarily concerned with poking holes in the prosecution's case. Self defense necessitates admitting you were there and involved in the incident. It is a confessional type of defense, and you would have to show why you felt threatened.

However, if you do claim self defense, the prosecution would still have to prove that your claim was false beyond a reasonable doubt.

2. You will have to show that you faced some sort of danger to yourself or another.

Usually this means that you will need to show that the other person posed a serious threat to you or others.  This doesn't necessarily always mean they struck first, but whatever they did would make any reasonable person feel like they should take action to protect themselves. For example, if someone had a weapon and was raising their arm to strike you with it, you might push their arm to the side and hit them in the face in order to stop an attack.

3. You should only use enough force to stop an attack.

If you kept hurting another person long after the threat was over, you could still be held guilty for attacking a person. A proper claim of self defense means you only did what was necessary to prevent serious harm from happening to you.

For example, say someone was running after you, hitting you and trying to strangle you, as Donna Cobb's husband was doing one night? If you grabbed a kitchen knife, you might have to stab that person to get them to stop hurting you, especially if they were bigger and stronger than you. Yet, what if they collapsed and you had time to call 911? If you kept stabbing them or otherwise hurting them instead of getting help, your defense could fall apart.

4. If the person was menacing to you in the past, evidence to this may be allowed in trial as evidence.

If your attacker acted violently or threateningly towards you on other occasions, you could present evidence regarding this in trial. For example, if the person was your spouse or a former boy/girlfriend and they received domestic abuse charges because of physical abuse in the past towards you, or you could show that they were making threats and stalking you, this would help your defense.

There have been cases where a battered spouse was acquitted for killing their mate as they slept, such as in the case of Francine Hughes. The defense was able to show that the physical and psychological abuse from her husband was long-standing and severe; plus, Francine felt that this was her only recourse to protect herself and her children. In cases like this, you would have to show that you had little to gain otherwise from such an action. 

On the other hand, the Menendez brothers were victims of parental abuse and claimed to feel threatened by their parents, so they admitted to killing them. Two juries felt somewhat swayed by evidence to this effect, but a third jury finally convicted them because of the large amounts of their parent's money they spent soon after the murders, and also because of the brutality of the crimes.

So to recap, claiming self defense means you have to show why you felt threatened enough to harm another person, that you only used necessary force to stop the threat, and you had nothing to gain by harming them other than your safety. For more help, contact a law firm like Law Offices of Michael K. Tasker.