self-defense | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee


Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Self-defense is a criminal defense that allows for the use of force to protect one’s self from harm, as well as the protection of others.

The exact nature of self-defense laws varies greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Self-defense is a legal defense that allows an individual to use reasonable force to protect themselves from imminent harm or danger. This defense is available in both criminal and civil cases, as it can be used to justify actions taken by a person to prevent harm to themselves or others. The basic idea behind self-defense is that an individual should not be punished for protecting themselves or others from harm.

The use of force in self-defense must be reasonable and proportionate to the perceived threat. This means that the amount of force used must not exceed what is necessary to prevent harm or danger. If a person uses excessive force in self-defense, they may be subject to criminal charges themselves.

The laws governing self-defense can vary widely from state to state and even within jurisdictions. Some states have what are known as “stand your ground” laws, which allow a person to use deadly force without retreating if they believe their life is in danger. Other states require that a person retreat if they can do so safely before using deadly force.

Self-defense laws can also vary depending on the circumstances of the situation. For example, a person who is defending themselves in their own home may have more leeway to use force than someone who is defending themselves on the street. In some cases, a person may also be able to use self-defense to protect their property, although this is often more limited than self-defense for personal protection.

In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense. The defendant must show that they had a reasonable belief that they or someone else was in danger of imminent harm, and that the amount of force used was reasonable under the circumstances. The defendant must also show that they did not provoke the attack or use excessive force.

In civil cases, self-defense may be used as a defense against a claim of assault or battery. However, the rules for self-defense in civil cases may be different from those in criminal cases, and the burden of proof may be different as well.

Overall, self-defense is an important legal defense that allows individuals to protect themselves and others from harm. However, the laws governing self-defense can be complex and vary depending on the circumstances of the situation and the jurisdiction in which it occurs.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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