Self Defense in Criminal Law

A Criminal Defense Lawyers Prospective on Self Defense in Domestic Violence Cases

Self Defense in Criminal Law | Seattle Criminal Defense AttorneyOur criminal defense lawyers | attorneys have read a lot of police reports and we know that police officers have a limited amount of time to investigate each crime and write their follow up reports. Though officers are supposed to write in all relevant information, they do not always collect all relevant information. A police officer’s immediate goal upon arriving at the scene of a domestic violence crime is to make the situation as safe as possible for themselves and for others and then figure out if there is probable cause to believe a domestic violence crime has been committed  and arrest whomever they determine is the primary aggressor of the incident that happened in the last 4 hours. Officers have a limited amount of time for each case; and, the truth is, arresting one party assures that the danger is over and parties are separated.  With this in mind, an officer may be inclined to “arrest first and let the judge sort it all out later”.

In this setting, self-defense is not always spotted by police officers, as they do not know the entire story and may form a bias based on who is larger, who has marks on them or who called first or happened to appear more convincing at the moment.

Self Defense in Criminal Cases

RCW 9A.16.020 is the statute that contains the legal definition for self-defense and when it is lawful to use force in self-defense.  Here are the sections most pertinent to domestic violence cases:

(1) Whenever necessarily used by a public officer in the performance of a legal duty, or a person assisting the officer and acting under the officer’s direction;

(2) Whenever necessarily used by a person arresting one who has committed a felony and delivering him or her to a public officer competent to receive him or her into custody;

(3) Whenever used by a party about to be injured, or by another lawfully aiding him or her, in preventing or attempting to prevent an offense against his or her person, or a malicious trespass, or other malicious interference with real or personal property lawfully in his or her possession, in case the force is not more than is necessary;

(4) Whenever reasonably used by a person to detain someone who enters or remains unlawfully in a building or on real property lawfully in the possession of such person, so long as such detention is reasonable in duration and manner to investigate the reason for the detained person’s presence on the premises, and so long as the premises in question did not reasonably appear to be intended to be open to members of the public;

(5) Whenever used by a carrier of passengers or the carrier’s authorized agent or servant, or other person assisting them at their request in expelling from a carriage, railway car, vessel, or other vehicle, a passenger who refuses to obey a lawful and reasonable regulation prescribed for the conduct of passengers, if such vehicle has first been stopped and the force used is not more than is necessary to expel the offender with reasonable regard to the offender’s personal safety;

(6) Whenever used by any person to prevent a mentally ill, mentally incompetent, or mentally disabled person from committing an act dangerous to any person, or in enforcing necessary restraint for the protection or restoration to health of the person, during such period only as is necessary to obtain legal authority for the restraint or custody of the person.

RCW 9A.16.020

Remember that every statute has a body of case law that interprets it.  In general, these cases stand for the following generalities:

  • Self-defense requires that the person asserting it have intentionally, not accidentally, acted in defending themselves.  Accidents are by definition not an intentional act of self-defense but may avail themselves to other defenses.
  • Whether self-defense was necessary is based on the point of view of a reasonable and objective person standing “in the shoes” of the person claiming it. This means, evidence of self-defense is viewed from the standpoint of a reasonably prudent person, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees.
  • The assailant’s reputation for violence known by the person defending him or herself is relevant, however, this is true both ways.
  • The threat or danger must be imminent, meaning you must be defending yourself from an immediate danger not a future one.
  • Aggressors cannot claim self-defense unless they have in good faith, endeavored to withdraw from and abandon the conflict.  In short, if you start it, you cannot claim self-defense until you really tried to end it.
  • The force used in defense generally cannot exceed the threat. There are limited fact specific exceptions.

Our firm has a distinct  mix of courtroom experience, skills, knowledge and temperament. It is important to speak with a criminal defense lawyer | attorney as soon as possible when dealing with any domestic violence case involving a potential self-defense claim as these kinds of cases are highly fact specific. Our lawyers know that criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police reports claim. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. The first step is an appointment.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>