How Does the Law Define Self Defense?

The metaphorical lines drawn between self-defense and assault are blurred for most people. Many debate the limits and permission of self-defense, with interpretations ranging from liberal to conservative. But regardless of common belief or misconceptions, it is the law and only the law that dictates the rules of self-defense. Continue reading to learn the true meaning of self-defense.

Self-Defense Law

Depending on which state you live in, the laws surrounding self-defense may vary. But ultimately, the basic rules are relatively the same across the board. For instance, Indiana legislation recognizes that citizens have the right to protect their home against unlawful intrusion, as well as, defend themselves and third parties from physical harm or crime. And this is essentially the same recognition for all state legislations. Indiana legislature introduces their statute regarding self-defense with this recognition, and defines the laws of self-defense in Indiana Code 35-41-3-2.

Although in part, the IC 35-41-3-2 reads as follows:

“A person is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force.

However, a person:

(1) Is justified in using deadly force; and

(2) Does not have a duty to retreat;

… if the person reasonably believes that their force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary.”

Get a fuller look at IC 35-41-3-2

Evidence of Rationality

So to explain in a more understandable context, Indiana legislation is saying that a person has the right to defend themselves if two types of “rationality” are evident. First, the victim must use a form of self-defense that is reasonable to the relation of the force being used against them. For instance, if a bully pushes you, it is not reasonable to take a blunt object to their head. That would not be considered self-defense. However, if the bully was swinging a blunt object at your head, you would have the right to do the same back out of self-defense.

Second, the victim’s belief that the person will harm them with unlawful force must be reasonable. For example, if a girlfriend is yelling at her boyfriend, and then she punches him because he yelled back at her, it would not be self-defense because it was unreasonable to think that her boyfriend was going to physically harm her just because he yelled at her.

Both elements of rationality must be present in order to qualify for defending oneself. But also, the same stipulations apply to self-defense using deadly force. If a person is trying to use deadly force against you or third parties, you have the right to defend yourself and the others with equal deadly force. For instance, if an intruder breaks into a home and aims a gun at the family, the occupants have the right to shoot and kill the intruder in order to protect their own lives.

Additional Elements of a Self-Defense Case

If a lawyer cannot persuade prosecution that a person’s self-defense claim is substantiated, then the case must go to trail and be presented to a judge and jury. In this situation, the criminal defense lawyer would have to prove the above-mentioned elements, as well as, these 3 additional ones:

1. The victim was in a place they had a right to be in.

2. The victim:

a) acted without fault;

b) did not provoke or instigate the violence;

c) did not participate willingly in the violence.

3. The victim showed a reasonable fear and/or apprehension of harm or death.

So in the case of a stereotypical bar fight, two guys screaming at each other to “do something” or “hit me” would be considered provocation and a willingness to participate in violence. Therefore, if one guy knocks out the other guy’s teeth, a claim for self-defense would not stand up in court.

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