When properly raised in an assault case or a homicide case, the District
Attorney must disprove a defendant's claim of "self-defense" beyond a reasonable doubt. The job of your self-defense lawyer is to prove that your use of force was justified.
Jurors get self-defense. It's a powerful claim. They understand
that the use of force is justified under proper circumstances. They can relate
to defendants who reasonably use force to defend themselves. Jurors are not afraid to hold the District Attorney to the burden of disproving the defense of self-defense.
Also known as "justification", the law of self-defense is complicated by twists and turns concerning the proportionality of force used to defend oneself, "provocation", "initial aggressor", "withdrawal", "combat by agreement", and
"the duty to retreat".
Self-defense distinguishes between the use of "physical force" and "deadly physical force". Deadly physical force is "physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or other serious physical injury". The use of deadly physical force is justified under fewer scenarios than the use of regular physical force.
Self-defense involving the use of physical force:
A person may . . . use [non-deadly] physical force upon another person when and to the extent he or she reasonably believes such to be necessary to defend himself, herself or a third person from what he or she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by such other person, unless:
(a) The latter's conduct was provoked by the actor with intent to cause physical injury to another person; or
(b) The actor was the initial aggressor; except that in such case the use of physical force is nevertheless justifiable if the actor has withdrawn from the encounter and effectively communicated such withdrawal to such other person but the latter persists in continuing the incident by the use or threatened imminent use of unlawful physical force; or
(c) The physical force involved is the product of a combat by agreement not specifically authorized by law.
Self-defense involving the use of deadly physical force:
A person may not use deadly physical force upon another person under circumstances specified in subdivision one unless:
(a) The actor reasonably believes that such other person is using or about to use deadly physical force. Even in such case, however, the actor may not use deadly physical force if he or she knows that with complete personal safety, to oneself and others he or she may avoid the necessity of so doing by retreating; except that the actor is under no duty to retreat if he or she is:
(i) in his or her dwelling and not the initial aggressor; or
(ii) a police officer or peace officer or a person assisting a police officer or a peace officer at the latter's direction, acting pursuant to section 35.30; or
(b) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery; or
(c) He or she reasonably believes that such other person is committing or attempting to commit a burglary, and the circumstances are such that the use of deadly physical force is authorized by subdivision three of section 35.20.