Winning a Self-Defense Argument in Court

If you face felony or misdemeanor assault charges, a successful self-defense argument can result in an acquittal at trial or a dismissal of all charges.

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Self-Defense is a Complete Defense Against Most Assault Charges

Most assault charges arise from complex situations. Prosecutors and courts can be particularly harsh in assaultive cases. Although the police might lead the prosecutor to believe that there is one “guilty” party and one “innocent” party, the true story tends to be much more complicated. If the person charged with an assaultive crime believed their actions were necessary and in self-defense, their actions are legally excused and not criminal. The police and prosecutors will file charges if they do not think the situation justified the person’s actions. The defendant will have to assert their defense in court. Winning a self-defense argument is complicated; however, a top criminal defense lawyer will know the most persuasive arguments to use in court.

What is self-defense, and how can it be used to win in court?

People have the right to use force to defend themselves under certain circumstances. If a person acts in lawful self-defense, they are justified and not guilty of a crime. Winning a self-defense argument requires an honest and reasonable belief that force was necessary to protect oneself from another person’s use of imminent unlawful use of force. So long as the belief was honest and reasonable under the circumstances, the person is not guilty of assault, even if it turns out later that they were wrong about the danger. This defense is called “self-defense.”

A person is only justified in using the degree of force that seems necessary at the time to protect themselves from danger. In other words, the person must have used the kind of force appropriate to the attack made and the circumstances as they saw them. The right to defend oneself only lasts as long as it seems necessary for protection.

Can deadly force be used in self-defense?

Sometimes, deadly force can be legally justified in self-defense. A person may not kill or seriously injure another person to protect themselves against what seems like a threat of only minor injury. To justify using deadly force in self-defense, a defendant must have been afraid of death, serious physical injury, or sexual assault. Suppose a defendant claims they justifiably defended themselves with deadly force. In that case, a defense lawyer must convince the judge that a defense has a legitimate basis before a jury is permitted to consider it. The defense lawyer must have the credibility, skill, and experience necessary to persuade the judge to allow the jury to consider justified deadly force.

If a person should and could have safely retreated but did not do so, they are not permitted to use force or deadly force in self-defense. However, a person has no duty to retreat if they are attacked in their own home and believe the attacker has a deadly weapon or that they will be subject to a sudden, fierce, and violent attack.

Pointing a gun at someone is NOT deadly force. At most, pointing a gun is a threat to use deadly force. If a defendant anticipated “the imminent unlawful use of force,” self-defense might be applicable even if they pointed a firearm at the alleged victim.

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“What if I am accused of assault but not yet charged? Can I claim self-defense before I’m charged?

A person accused of or under investigation for assault is in a difficult position. They can assert a self-defense argument, hoping to avoid charges; however, they might lose a tactical advantage by revealing their defense. Rarely are police present to witness an altercation first-hand. Because investigating officers are generally limited to third-hand information, they cannot definitively determine if someone lawfully defended themselves. The prosecutor gets a tactical advantage when a suspect reveals their defense too early. Also, voluntarily disclosing a planned defense helps the police focus their investigation on disproving or discrediting the defense. A skilled, experienced attorney should know when and how to reveal information to the government when advocating for charge reductions or dismissals. No one should speak with the police without a lawyer under any circumstances. A suspect’s unrepresented statements to the police almost always work to their disadvantage.

Winning Home or Residence-Based Self-Defense Argument

A person may use deadly force to defend their home if they honestly and reasonably believe that the person they killed or injured used force to enter their home or was forcibly attempting to enter the house without a right to do so. To justify self-defense, the resident of the home must have honestly and reasonably believed that the person they killed or injured intended to steal property from the defendant’s home or do bodily injury to someone in the home.

Can a person who started a fight win a self-defense argument?

A person who started a fight or initiated an assault can claim self-defense under limited circumstances. Generally, the person claiming self-defense must not have acted wrongfully and brought on the assault through a violent act. Words alone never justify an attack. Suppose someone attacks another individual because words, insults, or offensive speech provoke them. In this situation, the attacked person can use self-defense against the attacker who was provoked by words.

A defendant who assaults another person using fists or other non-serious or deadly means could claim self-defense if the person attacked responds with deadly force. In other words, if an individual punches someone who then responds by pulling out a gun or knife, the original offender can protect themselves using force as necessary.

Also, if a person commits an assault but clearly withdraws and gives up, the attacked person cannot legally use physical force to retaliate. If the person who initially assaulted used force or deadly force in retaliation, the person who committed the original assault can legally defend themselves. To justify self-defense in this scenario, the person who started the fight must have genuinely stopped their assault and clearly let the other person know they want to make peace.

As you can probably see, the self-defense argument is complex. The defense lawyer must carefully and skillfully use it in court.

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If the Claim of Self-Defense is Legally Supported, the Prosecutor Must Disprove Self-Defense Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The defendant does not have to prove that they acted in self-defense. Instead, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. Although this defense is typically used in a trial, a criminal defense trial lawyer who is a known, genuine threat to the prosecution’s case can use a self-defense argument to get the government to dismiss the case voluntarily.

Can self-defense be used to defend other people?

Defense attorneys can win a self-defense argument if they can effectively argue that their client reasonably and legally acted to defend another person or that they reasonably thought their actions were necessary. The degree of force used to protect another person must be reasonable. For example, a person can use deadly force to defend someone else if the person believes that the other individual is imminently going to be assaulted with a force that might cause death, serious bodily injury, or sexual assault. If the assault did not appear to be a deadly or serious threat, the attacked person could only use reasonable, non-deadly force to defend others.

Self-Defense in a Vehicle

With the enactment of the Self-Defense Act (SDA), the Michigan Legislature established the circumstances in which a person may use deadly force in self-defense or defense of another person without having a duty to retreat. A defendant in a motor vehicle (as opposed to a dwelling or business premises) can rely on the rebuttable presumption presumed that they had an honest and reasonable fear of imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault would occur when someone is unlawfully attempting to remove them from their vehicle.

Self-Defense Can Be a Winning Defense to Several Assaultive Charges in Michigan

The following is a non-exhaustive list of assault charges in Michigan where a defendant can lawfully claim self-defense:

  • Assault and Battery
  • Simple Assault
  • Domestic Violence
  • Domestic Assault and Battery
  • Felonious Assault
  • Assault with Intent to Commit Great Bodily Harm
  • Assault with Intent to Murder
  • Murder / Homicide
  • Aggravated Assault
  • Aggravated Domestic Violence
  • Child Abuse
  • Assault with a Deadly Weapon
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Attorneys With a Track Record of Winning Self-Defense Arguments

The Defense Team with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. has decades of experience getting charges thrown out of court based on various defenses, including self-defense, use of deadly force in self-defense, and lawful defense of others. Our attorneys have won many jury trials and achieved “not guilty” verdicts based on self-defense arguments.

If you face misdemeanor or felony assault allegations, do not hesitate to contact us for the highest caliber defense available. We will do whatever it takes to win your case, including raising a compelling self-defense argument. We are not afraid to win!

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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