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She Told Me California Had NO Self Defense Law. Period (as if everybody knew that)

I’m a Lifetime movie network  kind of gal. I can’t help it. I have been for years. My father also shares my love of these over the top wife, girlfriend, whoever; kills, stalks, identity theft, steals, their lover, husband, child, boss, next door neighbor, half the time based on a true story, made for TV movies. Usually corny, low budgeted, and insanely predictable, they still captivate this TV/Film and Media college major. (We all have our guilty pleasures right?!)

Highlighted in these films are a lot of self defense life saving moments that appear pretty cut and dry. While they also embrace the ease to which this plea can be abused in a court of law, I’ve always been under the assumption that self defense is still self defense. I had no reason to wonder if self defense was not always a legal option. (That would suck. Especially for all real-life people the characters tend to be based on in all those Lifetime movie productions.)

Well sometimes its not.

While discussing a mutually shared fondness for gun ranges with a friend from work, she implied that we lived in a state without a self defense law. (!!!)

I live in California. (What is she talking about…?)

First of all, as explained on alljujitsu.com

“There is a widespread misconception concerning the interpretation of self defense. There are several reasons for this, mainly the fact that self defense laws vary from one state to another.

If you injure or kill someone, no matter what the circumstances, you WILL be arrested and charged with a crime. The police will not make the assumption that you acted in self-defense. The police are not responsible for making that decision. They will let the courts sort that out.”

The legal definition of self defense is,

“Self-defense is the right to use reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm, or to a lesser extent, one’s property, from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger. Self-defense is a defense to a criminal charge or to tort liability. To establish the defense, the person must be free from fault or provocation, must have no means of escape or retreat, and there must be an impending peril.

The force used in self-defense may be sufficient for protection from apparent harm (not just an empty verbal threat) or to halt any danger from attack, but cannot be an excuse to prolong the attack or use excessive force. Self-defense cannot include killing or great bodily harm to defend property, unless personal danger is also involved.”

(source uslegal.com)

The rules are the same under self defense law when force is used to protect another person from danger.

alljujitsu.com Continues to highlight that,

“Another important concept to the limits on defense of self-defense. Referring to the definition of Unlawful Force, it’s described as murder, rape, robbery, arson, burglary and the like. The word ‘argument’ is not included. “When there is mutual combat upon a sudden quarrel, both parties are the aggressors, and if in the fight one is killed it will be manslaughter at least.” – 16th Century English Self Defense Law –

Ninety percent of all “fights” are started over something stupid. If the court feels your actions were unwarranted or avoidable, your defense of self-defense will fail. Especially, if those actions result in deadly force.

The confusion comes from a fundamental difference in the philosophy of criminal law. The current self defense laws in America are based on a theory of one’s duty to retreat, meaning when faced with a hostile situation, run away. If you cannot run away and have to defend yourself, then use of force is acceptable.

In criminal law, the duty to retreat is a specific component which sometimes appears in the defense of self-defense, and which must be addressed if the defendant is to prove that his or her conduct was justified.”

Okay, so that was informative and what not, but what’s up with some states not having a, as it’s entitled a,

Stand-Your-Ground” Law (critics call it the shoot first, ask questions later law…)

“The state of Florida became the first to enact such a self defense law on October 1, 2005. The Florida statute allows the use of deadly force when a person reasonably believes it necessary to prevent the commission of a “forcible felony.” Under the statute, forcible felonies include “treason; murder; manslaughter; sexual battery; car-jacking; home-invasion robbery; robbery; burglary; arson; kidnapping; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; aggravated stalking; aircraft piracy; unlawful placing, throwing, or discharging of a destructive device or bomb; and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.”

The Florida law authorizes the use of defensive force by anyone “who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be.” Furthermore, under the law, such a person “has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” The statute also grants civil and criminal immunity to anyone found to have had such a reasonable belief.”

Since the enactment of the Florida legislation,

  • South Dakota
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • And Indiana have adopted similar statutes
  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Hampshire
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington
  • Wyoming put “Stand Your Ground” self defense laws into consideration.

(2005 source via alljutitu.com)

According to the New York Times in 2006, 15 did indeed expand their right to shoot in self defense laws.

As of 2012, 23 states have such laws, as analyzed in Alternet.org’s article, 23 States with “Stand Your Ground” Gun Laws Like the One that Let Trayvon Martin’s Killer Go Free

California is in FACT a state whose law is that

You are acting in lawful self-defense if you:

  1. reasonably believe that you are in imminent danger of being killed, seriously injured, or unlawfully touched,
  2. believe that immediate force is necessary to prevent that danger, and
  3. use no more force than necessary to defend against that danger.1

California self-defense law justifies your injuring (or even killing) another person if these conditions are satisfied. This means that if these requirements are met, self-defense can serve as a complete defense to a California violent crime if you are forced to kill or injure another.

Source: http://www.shouselaw.com/self-defense.html

So my coworker was wrong.

But at least I’m a little more informed about the state I call home, matter on the subject. Loose at best though, because last time I checked shooting someone wasn’t the only way someone could kill another in “defense”.

Authors Attorney Mitch Vilos and Evan Vilos go more in depth about this in their book, Self Defense Laws of All 50 States (With Plain-Talk Summaries Limited Edition Cover)

And Wikipedia offers a great launching pad of information on topics such as

  • •  Battered woman syndrome
  • •  Castle Doctrine
  • •  Deadly force
  • •  Defense of property
  • •  Imperfect self-defense
  • •  Right of self-defense

See here.

I’d recommend learning a thing or two. I want to learn how to use a gun not because I have any desire to own one, but if I’m in a situation where I have to use one, I will be skilled in how to shoot effectively and ideally not kill them. (I’d always prefer to retreat!! And sometimes people need to be slowed down so that retreat can happen. A shot in the leg will slow anyone down—right!!)

In the meantime I’ve taken the obligatory female self defense courses…I could hurt someone.

But hopefully I won’t ever have to…


About maggie.

Maggie Barnes is a nonprofit and for profit business content specialist / social media consultant; and social sciences web writer interested in everything from psychology and sexuality, to technology, race, and economics. She is passionate about good communication and information accessibility.


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