Detailing California’s self-defense law
It may be easy for many in California to dismiss claims of self-defense due to skepticism. This no doubt comes from the assumption that in any altercation serious enough to produce significant injuries (or even death) to one of the involved parties, both parties were likely active (and willing) participants.
At the same time, however, many also probably recognize that there are scenarios in which they may feel compelled to act in their own defense (or that of their families). The question then becomes to what extent the law allows for action in response to a threat.
Stand Your Ground vs. the Castle Doctrine
According to information shared by the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states subscribe to one of two legal philosophies when establishing their self-defense statutes: “Stand Your Ground” or “the Castle Doctrine.” The former removes the duty to retreat from anyone in any situation where they feel threatened; the latter only permits defensive action in response to unlawful entries into one’s home, car or place of business.
California, however, leaves the judgment of justifiable cases of self-defense to the juries hearing individual cases. While some might see this as leaving too much open to interpretation when analyzing such a serious issue, others point out that this does not lock legal officials into applying criminal penalties when circumstances may not warrant it.
California’s standard regarding self-defense
Per California’s Criminal Jury Instructions, the state justifies defensive action in the following scenarios:
- One had a reasonable fear of suffering harm or serious injury
- One believed only defensive action would deter the threat
- Only only used action sufficient to avoid the threat
Fear of future harm does not justify defensive action; rather, one can only use self-defense when encountering a current threat.