Self Defense

Self Defense: A Criminal Defense Attorney’s Prospective

Our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys have read a lot of police reports and as a result, certain truths have become evident.  The truth is police officers have a limited amount of time to investigate each crime, collect their evidence and write their reports. The truth is most officers write their reports to support their conclusions whether they have all the evidence or not. The truth is if an accused person asserts their right to remain silent, police officers will write their police reports regardless.  With these truths in mind, police officers do not always see or agree with self-defense cases as they do not know the entire story or 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. The benefit of the right to remain silent is your words will not be misinterpreted or misconstrued; the downside is police officers make their own conclusions based on what they know.

There are a lot of subtleties in the case law surrounding self-defense and RCW 9A.16.020 that require a detailed conversation with experienced criminal defense attorneys | lawyers.  That being said, in general:

  • 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, however accidents may avail themselves to other defenses.
  • Whether self-defense was necessary or not 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. This includes information the police and prosecutor may not have known about until your criminal defense attorney | lawyer brings it to their attention.
  • The assailant’s reputation for violence, if known by the person defending him or herself is relevant, however, the opposite is true as well.
  • The threat or danger must be imminent, meaning you must be defending yourself from an immediate and imminent danger, not danger that may or may not happen.
  • Aggressors cannot claim self-defense unless you in good faith endeavor to withdraw from and abandon the conflict.  In short, if you started it, you cannot claim self-defense until you tried to end it.
  • The force used in defense generally cannot exceed the threat.  The general idea is that the law will not let you break someone’s neck for pinching you even if they did it on purpose.  There are some exceptions, but this is the general idea.

These generalities help one understand the Revised Code of Washington’s legal definition of self-defense outlined with the most commonly used sections bolded:

The use, attempt, or offer to use force upon or toward another person is not unlawful in the following 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

Our firm has a unique blend of courtroom experience, skills, knowledge and temperament. Our criminal defense lawyers | attorneys work as a team and are highly experienced in dealing with the complex fact specific arguments surrounding assaults and self-defense claims. Our lawyers know that criminal cases are rarely as simple as the police report and our clients retain us early on in the process to make sure their rights are protected. Consultations are free but a poor choice in counsel is not. The first step in evaluating counsel 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 >>