What Are the Self-Defense Laws in California?

Posted on by datateam

Self-defense is a right that all Americans have, but these laws can vary from state to state. Though California has adopted stand-your-ground laws in practice, it isn’t one of the states that have signed it into law. California law recognizes that there are times when someone may need to use force (deadly or otherwise) to protect oneself or others. In these circumstances, people who commit such acts of self-defense can be exempt from what could otherwise be civil or criminal charges for their actions, so long as they fall within the accepted scope by state law.

Right of Self-Defense or Defense of Another

The intent of self-defense laws is so that people can protect themselves or others whenever they are in dangerous circumstances. A person will face no legal circumstances (such as criminal charges for murder) under California law, so long as he or she took such actions that meet three major qualifiers:

  • The belief that he or she was in imminent danger of suffering bodily harm or being touched unlawfully
  • The belief that, to defend from that danger, immediate force was necessary
  • The use of no more force than necessary to defend against the danger

The last qualifier is one of the most important, as it determines the extent to which you can harm a potential assailant. For example, if someone tried to throw a punch at you in a bar, you would be more likely to receive a verdict of self-defense for throwing a counter blow, but not for murder.

Self Defense in Mutual Combat

Many people who act in self-defense do so when they are the victim of another’s actions. However, some circumstances can involve two parties starting a fight. In such a case, the law does not consider either as acting in self-defense unless one party:

  • Tried to stop the fighting
  • Indicated to the other that he or she wanted to stop fighting
  • Gave his or her opponent the opportunity to stop fighting

These grounds for self-defense can also apply if someone was the initial aggressor (such as the person who threw the first punch in our earlier bar fight example). However, this exception does not apply if the initial aggressor had started the fight with an excuse to use force.

Stand Your Ground and the Castle Doctrine

Some states have “stand your ground” laws. These statutes allow for people to defend themselves in any circumstances, even if they had an opportunity to retreat. California does not have these types of laws. As such, anyone who does have an opportunity to escape in a situation of conflict must do so before exerting any right to self-defense.

However, California does recognize what is down as the castle doctrine. While in any other circumstances people must retreat if possible, that duty no longer exists if they are acting in defense of their property. In most cases, this law applies to self-defense within one’s own home, but it can also apply to places of business or other property. The exemption made by the castle doctrine ends if the individual is no longer on his or her property.

Arguing for Self Defense in California

If you have acted in self-defense under any of these circumstances, then you may face acquittal for what could otherwise be a serious felony. However, it is still possible for a court to convict you if you cannot show proof that your life or another’s was in danger. If you’re concerned about issues of self-dense, have suffered injury from someone claiming self-defense, or need clarification on California specific laws, discuss your case with one of our injury attorneys.