If at any point in time you are ever in a situation where you need to defend yourself, your first priority is to do what you need to do to be safe, but It is also important to know that going too far can get you into trouble, if it is seen as going beyond measures necessary to keep you safe. Here is a better understanding of how self-defense can at times fail as a justification for violence.
The first thing to know is that each state will have different rules. For example in Colorado, you have the right to shoot somebody if they enter your house with the intent to harm but in places like California, the laws can be very different.
How is self-defense interpreted?
One would usually use self-defense as a way to protect against violence or even death. This is done by using equal or greater force to combat the threat occurring. But the question is how much force is too much? At what point do you go from being a victim to the abuser? For example, if someone were to aggressively shove someone but they had no weapons and it did not seem like it would escalate further from their side, this would be considered a moderate level threat. In this instance now if the person shoved takes out a gun and shoots the other person, they would have a difficult time convincing police that shooting the person was necessary for the name of self-defense. In other situations, the lines may be more blurry on what could be construed as acceptable so let’s discuss when laws deem self-defense to be appropriate.
When danger is sudden
There can be times when a threat comes from nowhere and you have little to no time to react. In cases like this, there is a lot more leniency even if the result is fatal when it is apparent that a person was simply defending for their life. However, if the attacker is only verbally threatening to harm, physical violence may be seen as overkill and could land the defender in legal trouble. If at any point the verbal situation escalates, there is room for the self-defense claim but until then it is probably best to get the authorities involved to maintain safety.
Another thing to remember is that when the threat diminishes, the claim of self-defense does as well. If someone attacks another person and they let’s say shoot that person in a way that does not kill them but makes them no longer a threat, then going further and shooting again to end up with a fatality would be considered excessive force and could end with manslaughter charges. If the person is no longer able to physically hurt you, then you no longer have the right to hurt them either.
One last aspect to think about in terms of immediate danger is conflict the defender may have started. One example of this would be if a person were to get upset with someone while driving and they yell at a driver. If that driver starts getting aggressive and the original person uses self-defense and either injures or kills the other driver, the claim of self-defense can be considered, however it would most likely not completely excuse all charges.
Force equal to the threat
As discussed with a previous example, if the attacker is not literally threatening a life, the defensive force can also not aim for taking a life. All defenses need to be proportional to whatever threat is being faced.
Aim to defuse the situation
If there is any way to avoid violence from either party, that should always be the priority solution. If some type of threat does occur and you have a way to take care of the solution with as little force as possible that should always be the first route. Again, if you are in immediate danger and they are aiming to take your life, you need to do what you need to do but as a general rule, if possible, taking a life is the very last option and the courts will most likely really analyze if that was the only choice. Really try to disarm or immobilize the attacker first.
Protecting Your Home and Loved Ones
If a threat comes directly to your home, you have a lot more authority to protect your family and belongings then in any other situation. In some places, this can be called the “Make My Day” law and others it is known as a “Castle Doctrine.” Basically what it states is that a person can use self-defense even if it could end up as lethal if someone is unlawfully entering your home. While this is not a guarantee that you would get off scott free if you were to have to take a life in your home if need be but there is certainly a lot more understanding in why this would happen and any charges would certainly reflect that.
In review, everyone has the right to defend themselves. And for the most part, the laws are created around that right but one just has to remember to try and deescalate a situation first and foremost and only use more aggressive methods of force when absolutely necessary.