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Does Self-Defense Apply to My Assault Case in California?


If you were involved in a heated physical altercation which resulted in criminal assault charges, self-defense may apply to your case. California self-defense laws state that you cannot be found guilty of committing a violent crime in order to protect yourself or another person, only if your actions were reasonable according to the circumstances.

A reasonable circumstance means all the following:

  • You reasonably believed that (you or another individual) was in imminent danger of getting hurt or killed.
  • You reasonably believed it was necessary to use force (either lethal or nonlethal, depending on the situation) to prevent harm.
  • You used the amount of force reasonably required to stop the threat.

Imminent danger needs to happen at the precise moment, not in the near feature or at another point in time. You are only justified to use force when the danger is imminent.

Reasonable belief means acting in a manner a reasonable person would when placed in the same situation. If the jury would’ve acted in a similar manner, your actions will be deemed reasonable.

The amount of force used for protection needs to be proportionate to the danger you encounter. For instance, if a person starts a fight by punching you, you are not justified to use deadly force to stop the brawl.

Even if you start the fight or engage in mutual combat, it is possible to still claim self-defense based on the circumstances. If you attempted to end the fight in good faith, indicated to the other person involved that you wish to stop the fight, and gave the other person a chance to stop fighting, you may use self-defense. However, if you provoke a fight to make an excuse for using force, self-defense does not apply.

When it comes to altercations within your home, you have the right to use deadly force if you have a reasonable fear of imminent danger or great bodily harm. Even if you also had the option of retreating, state law allows you to still use reasonable force to defend yourself or another person.

If an intruder attempts to break into your home, you are justified to use deadly force if all the following are true:

  • You had reason to believe someone is unlawfully entering your home.
  • The intruder acted in an unlawful manner.
  • You or another household member had a reasonable fear of great bodily harm or death.
  • You or another household member didn’t provoke the intruder.

For more information about California self-defense laws, contact our Santa Barbara criminal defense attorneys at Appel & Morse today.

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