Assault charges in California carry heavy consequences that can derail the trajectory of your entire life. If you’re accused of assault, you could be facing misdemeanor or felony penalties that could come with years worth of prison time.

However, there are certain circumstances in which you might be guilty of committing assault, but your actions are justified! In order to have your charges dropped by proving that you acted in self defense, you will need to understand what does and does not qualify as defending yourself and how far the boundaries of the law extend. Additionally, you will need the help of an experienced legal team who can argue that you acted within acceptable legal limitations.

The lawyers at Confianza Legal have over two decades of experience fighting against criminal charges, including assault and battery charges, and we understand the legal parameters of self-defense as it applies to assault charges. Read on to find out when and how you are able to defend yourself, as well as California’s legal stance on mandates such as stand your ground and castle doctrine.

How Is Assault Defined In California?

The California penal code defines assault as “an unlawful attempt, coupled with a present ability, to commit a violent injury on the person of another.” Despite whatever conception you might have, assault doesn’t necessarily need physical contact in order to be considered assault. By definition, assault involves the threat of violence, as well as the possibility that the assault could be presently carried through. 

Assault is an all-encompassing term that can refer to a wide range of behavior. If you have heard about charges labeled assault and battery, battery is a type of assault in which physical contact does occur. 

What Is Self-Defense In California?

Self-defense in California is what is known as an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense occurs when you admit to having committed a crime, but in your specific circumstance the crime was justified. When you are in danger and react to it, causing harm to another individual or multiple people, you can be said to have acted in self defense.

When you use an affirmative defense such as self-defense, you have admitted to a crime, and it becomes the responsibility of the prosecution to prove that your actions were not justified in order to convict you.

When Do You Have The Right To Act In Self Defense?

When you are assaulted, you have the right to defend yourself. Under the law, you are entitled to use self defense when you are threatened with physical violence, murder, rape, robbery, or other potential threats to your wellbeing.

In order to have acted in self-defense from a legal standpoint, there must be three elements present in your case:

1. You reasonably believed that there was an imminent threat of physical danger

2. You reasonably believed that you must use force in order to prevent said physical danger

3. You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the physical danger

You are also allowed to defend other people or property using the above parameters. In all cases, you must believe that there is an immediate and present danger, that you must use force in order to terminate this threat, and the force that you use is directly proportional to the threat you are facing.

You might think that reasonable force and imminent danger are subjective, but under the law they are not. Your behavior will be evaluated to determine if you reacted to the threat of danger in a way that would be an appropriate response for a reasonable person.

Additionally, you are allowed to respond with deadly force if the situation calls for it. However, you must be prepared to prove that you were facing a deadly threat to avoid being charged with murder or manslaughter.

Stand Your Ground And Castle Doctrine

California is a “stand your ground” state, meaning that you do not have a responsibility to retreat when you are faced with the threat of violence, which is the case in certain other states. If someone comes at you with violent intent, you are allowed to stand your ground and respond to the threat against you with proportionate force.

The same corresponds with break-ins. California is a castle doctrine state, meaning that if someone forcibly breaks into your property, you can reasonably interpret it as a threat on your life or the lives of your loved ones and respond with deadly force.

What Doesn’t Qualify As Self Defense?

Just because you feel threatened by someone does not mean you have carte blanche to respond as you please. There are some instances in which you cannot argue self defense, including such situations as:

  • You started the altercation. If you began the fight, you cannot claim self defense. However, in the event that you communicated a good-faith attempt to stop the fight or if your opponent responded non-proportionally with deadly force, you can justifiably claim self-defense in these instances.
  • You were involved in illegal activity. For example, if you are committing robbery, you cannot claim self-defense when you kill a person who tries to stop you.
  • You were trespassing at the time.

As already covered, you also cannot claim self-defense if you responded to a threat with disproportionate force. For instance, if someone comes at you with a slap, you cannot retaliate with a gunshot.

Imperfect Self-Defense

In some cases, you might respond with force when you perceive a threat to you or someone else that did not actually exist. Everyone makes mistakes, and if you can prove that you harmed or killed another person because you were mistaken in your belief that they were an imminent threat, you can claim imperfect self-defense, which might reduce the charges against you.

The Legal Team At Confianza Legal Can Defend You From Your Assault Charges

If you acted in self-defense, you need a legal team who is going to be able to defend your actions under scrutiny. At Confianza Legal, we have been defending against criminal charges, including assault and battery, for over two decades, and we know the legal playbook when it comes to proving self defense. Reach out to us to schedule a free initial consultation and we will go over the particular circumstances of your case in order to begin constructing a bulletproof defense.