Self Defense

Self DefenseCalifornia Self Defense Explained by San Diego Criminal Defense Attorneys

Self Defense is a complete defense to a crime.  Self-defense occurs when the use of force is necessary to avoid imminent danger of suffering bodily harm or unlawful touching.  The key word for Self Defense is “imminent.”  Belief in future harm is not sufficient no matter how great or likely that harm is believed to be.  Defendant must have believed the harm was an immediate threat.

Please note, Self Defense for homicide cases has a different set of rules.  This article discusses general Self Defense rules for non-homicide crimes.  For homicide crimes, please see Homicide Self Defense.

Burden of Proof

When Substantial Evidence supports a theory of Self Defense, the burden is on the government to show beyond a reasonable doubt the act was not in Self Defense.  This is true whether the crime charges is homicide or a non-homicide charge.


  • Brandishing a weapon when threatened by another.
  • Hitting back when a person attacks

Case Law

  • In California, there is no duty to retreat.  (People v. Hughes (1951) 107 Cal.App.2d 487, 494.)  This means the defendant can stand his ground and defend himself and, if necessary, pursue an assailant until the danger has passed.  This is true even if the danger could have been achieved by retreating.
  • The reasonable person standard for self defense does not take into account a persons mental capacity or mental illness.  (People v. Jefferson (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 508, 519.)

Jury Considerations

A person is Not Guilty of a non-homicide crime where…

  1. He reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury or unlawful touching;
  2. He reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against the danger; and
  3. He used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

When determining whether the defendant’s belief’s were reasonable, the jury must consider whether a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed the act was reasonable considering all the circumstances as they were known to defendant at the time.

Remember, even if the danger does not actually exist, so long as the defendant reasonably believed that it did, he is entitled to use Self Defense.

When determining whether defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, the jury can consider…

  • Whether the victim threatened or harmed defendant in the past
  • Whether the victim threatened or harmed others in the past.
  • Whether a threat from someone else can be reasonably associated with the victim.

Learn More …

If you or a loved one are accused of a San Diego Criminal Offense and the Crime was committed in Self Defense, give our Self Defense Attorneys a call for a Free Analysis by calling 619-708-2073 or emailing us at

Request A Free Consultation

Scott Hullinger, Esq.

Scott Hullinger, Esq.

Criminal and Civil Attorney