Under California Law, self-defense is defined as “some reasonable action taken in protection of self”. Act taken in self-defense or defense of another cannot be considered as a crime and,consequently, it will not be punished.  Nonetheless, the force used for self-defense must be proportional to the threat. It means that, for example, you cannot kill on purpose an offender driving under the influence because in this case the force used to deactivate him is not proportional to the danger. Moreover, individuals are allowed to protect another’s legal rights if it is possible. However, each specific case has its particularities and the trial must discover all circumstances of the case.

California Law gives an opportunity to individual to use the right to self-defense or defense of another. There are certain criteria that the defendant’s acts must correspond to in order to qualify the force used against the other person lawful:

1. The defendant reasonably believed that he /she or so

meone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or being killed;

2. The defendant reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to defend against that danger;

3. The force used by the defendant was necessary and proportional to the danger.

The crucial point is that the defendant’s belief must be reasonable and it has to result in the use of proportional force to the imminent danger. The danger cannot be future, it must be real. It does not matter how great or how likely the danger appears to be. The defendant can use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If he exceeds such amount of force, his or her act stop being lawful.


It is not required that the defendant’s belief to be true. But it must be actual and reasonable despite of false information of imminent danger.

Example: Stewart threatened and harmed Steve’s brother in the past. Last night, Stewart approached Steve with knife and said that he was going to kill his brother. When Steve’s brother came, Stewart knifed him. After this, he said that Steve was the next one. They started quarrelling and Steve killed Stewart. In this case, Steve’s act was proportional to the attacks of Stewart.  Moreover, if the court finds that the victim threatened or harmed the defendant or others in the past, it can be considered while deciding whether the defendant’s conduct and beliefs were reasonable.

In addition, the retreat is not required for a defendant. If the danger is actual and imminent, a person has a right to stand his or her ground in order to defend himself or herself. This rule is applicable even if safety could have been reached by retreating.

Example: Shon is the world boxing champion. A robber penetrated into his neighbor’s house and wanted to steal their money while Shon was at their home. The robber proposed him to go away and leave him alone with proprietors; otherwise he threatened to kill him. Shon punched him and then the robber died. In this case, Shon could retreat and find a safe place for him but the danger for him and another people was actual and imminent, that is why his decision to withstand the robber was lawful.

Thus, the main standard to decide whether the act is lawful or unlawful for jury is to analyze through their own “eyes” the case. The jurors must compare the act of the defendant with the act of hypothetical person who acts reasonably and render a decision whether that “reasonable person” would have acted in the same way under similar circumstances.  And here the prosecutor can try to influence on the jurors and persuade them that the used force was not necessary and it was exceeded. That is why experienced and zealous attorney can help you not to be caught in the traps of the prosecutor.  It is not always that a person can use force under the same circumstances. For example, the potential victim could be taller and a weak person, so it can occur whether you could use the gun or maybe you could not do it. Each case is unique and requires particular analysis.


Did not you know that you were committing crime under California law?

The Margarian Law Firm aggressively protects the rights of criminal defendants in California.  The charges of the prosecution are only allegations. We always conduct a deep legal research on accusations to determine how we must attack their validity. Do not hesitate to contact us!

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