Let’s say that someone attempted to mug you on your way home or attacked you at a party and you chose to fight back to defend yourself. However, after this incident, the other individual claims that you accosted them and are charging you with assault. At this point, you and your criminal defense attorney may consider it a case of self-defense. But what does that mean legally? How do California courts assess self-defense?
California Self-Defense and the Castle Doctrine
California is not technically a stand your ground state, but it does have provisions to justify an individual’s right to defend themselves against an attacker. California Penal Code (PC) 198.5 outlines the Castle Defense, which does allow individuals to use reasonable force to defend their home, property, or workplace in the event of an imminent threat of bodily harm or death. In extreme cases like homicide, a defendant may use the Castle Defense to defend their actions, per California PC 199.
The Castle Doctrine used as the basis for many self-defense arguments in assault cases, but the language used is subject to scrutiny and it is limited to defending your home or workplace, not when you are walking home.
How Juries Assess Self-Defense Claims
In addition to the Castle Doctrine, California juries are Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions. This document outlines the rule and regulations for juries, including when a not-guilty ruling should be considered an assault cases. When assessing a self-defense plea, the jury must conclude that the defendant:
- Feared for their lives or the lives of others;
- Believed that they were at risk for great bodily harm by an attacker; and
- Used reasonable force in defense of themselves and others.
Reasonable force can be subject to much debate in an assault trial. The prosecution may argue that you went too far in fighting an assailant, causing unnecessary injuries. Pinning an individual’s arms behind their back so they cannot hurt anyone is a clear indication of reasonable force, but kicking an unconscious assailant is not.
These instructions also extend to situations where you were involved in a fight, even if you started it. Juries are required to consider a self-defense claim if you attempted to stop the fight, you made it clear to your opponent, and you gave them the opportunity to stop the fight.
Building a Defense Case
A charge of assault can have a serious impact on your life, with a minimum sentence of six months in county jail and/or a $1,000 fine if convicted. This charge can also be enhanced with additional charges, such as if great bodily harm was incurred by the accuser or a firearm was involved. Securing strong legal counsel is a must in order to receive a fair day in court and develop a solid defense plan.
If you or a loved one has been charged with assault in Orange County, then you should not hesitate to contact an Irvine assault and battery attorney at the Law Office of Michael L. Guisti. Our lead attorney will consider all angles when reviewing your case, including a self-defense claim, in addition to other options under the law. Call (714) 530-9690 to learn about your rights under the law.