When can you claim self-defense in a fight?

If you have been charged with assault, you may think of claiming that you acted in self-defense to justify your actions. After all, you have a right to defend yourself.

However, your self-defense assertion must meet certain requirements to stand the legal test. In order to claim self-defense in a fight:

You must have been in immediate danger

For your self-defense claim to stand, you must have been in imminent danger of physical harm. You cannot claim that you were acting in self-defense if the threat is not immediate, apparent and – above all – reasonable.

For instance, if your 89-year-old neighbor threatens you by shaking their fist in the air from across the street, you can’t claim it was self-defense to rush over and punch him since there was no imminent, reasonable risk of harm. 

Similarly, if you act after the threat has passed, your actions may be considered retaliatory and not in defense. For example, maybe someone in a bar issued threats because you bumped their arm. Their friend de-escalated the situation, and they turned away. It wouldn’t be self-defense, then to hit them from behind as they sat back down.

Your level of response must be relative to the threat

Actions in self-defense must be proportional to the risk to your safety. You cannot use deadly or excessive force in response to a minor threat and claim you were acting to defend yourself. Your use of force must also last as long as the assault or risk to your safety. If you knock someone out and continue battering them, your actions may not amount to self-defense.

It takes an informed assessment of the circumstances of your charges to determine the best way forward, which is why it is advisable to reach out for legal guidance as soon as possible.

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