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Is it Domestic Violence if You are Defending Yourself?
Domestic violence is an extremely sensitive topic. It is also a common occurrence in the United States, one that is widely misunderstood. For instance, while most people would automatically side with an alleged victim claiming to have suffered abuse at the hands of their intimate partner, domestic violence situations are not always so cut and dried. Sometimes what initially appears to be an act of domestic violence is actually an act of self-defense, and no one should face criminal charges for defending themselves or others against harm. Unfortunately, the natural tendency to believe the accuser in a domestic violence case can result in negative outcomes for innocent individuals facing false allegations of abuse. If you have been accused of domestic violence in San Diego and you were acting in self-defense or in defense of others, you should consult a skilled domestic violence defense attorney right away.
- Domestic Violence Defined
- Penal Code § 273.5 PC – Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Inhabitant
- Penal Code § 243(e)(1) PC – Domestic Battery
- When Domestic Violence is Actually an Act of Self-Defense
- What is the Difference?
- When Self-Defense Goes Too Far
- Can Self-Defense be Manslaughter?
- What is the Castle Doctrine?
- How a Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Can Help
Domestic Violence Defined
Each state has its own laws and penalties for criminal offenses involving domestic violence, including unique guidelines for what constitutes an act of domestic violence. California’s domestic violence laws make it a crime for a person to willfully use force or violence against a member of their family or household. This includes a person’s current or former spouse, domestic partner, dating partner, fiancé or cohabitant, a co-parent, or any other family member, household member or blood relative. There are several criminal statutes in California that can be used to prosecute domestic violence offenses, also known as domestic battery, spousal battery, domestic abuse, or spousal abuse, the two main statutes being Penal Code § 273.5 PC (corporal injury to a spouse or inhabitant) and Penal Code § 243(e)(1) PC (domestic battery).
Penal Code § 273.5 PC – Corporal Injury to a Spouse or Inhabitant
Penal Code § 273.5 PC is a California domestic violence law that defines felony domestic violence as the act of willfully inflicting corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition upon a family or household member. This criminal offense is a felony punishable by a fine of up to $6,000, and/or imprisonment in state prison for two, three, or four years, or in a county jail for up to one year.
Penal Code § 243(e)(1) PC – Domestic Battery
Under Penal Code § 243(e)(1) PC, the crime of domestic battery is defined as a battery committed against a spouse, a cohabitant, a co-parent, a former spouse or fiancé, or a person with whom the defendant has or previously had a dating relationship. Under this California statute, domestic battery is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, and/or imprisonment in a county jail for up to one year.
When Domestic Violence is Actually an Act of Self-Defense
There is a fine line between committing an act of domestic violence and behaving in a way that is necessary for safety, and that line is often blurry. No one deserves to be threatened, harmed, or injured by an intimate partner, family member or household member, and every person has the right to protect themselves from harm by any reasonable means necessary. The very act of self-defense involves the use of force to protect oneself from attempted harm or injury by another person, including a domestic partner. However, because domestic violence is such a tense, high-profile topic, it doesn’t take much for self-defense to be misconstrued as an act of domestic abuse, especially if the other person claims to have been the victim of abuse. False accusations of domestic violence do happen and if it happens to you, it can be extremely difficult to turn the tide and show that your actions were necessary for your own safety or the safety of someone else in your home, such as a child or another family member. That is why we always recommend seeking legal advice from a reputable San Diego criminal defense attorney when facing criminal charges for a domestic violence offense.
What is the Difference?
If you are involved in a domestic violence case where self-defense could be a legal defense to criminal charges, you will need to know the difference between the two. The main element that sets self-defense apart from domestic violence is the motivation behind the use of force or violence against the other person. In genuine self-defense situations, the motivation is an innate need to protect oneself or others from imminent harm, while in domestic violence situations, the motivation may be anger, resentment, shame, or some other emotional response. In California, self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant acknowledges that he or she engaged in illegal conduct but explains that it was for the sole purpose of avoiding imminent harm or injury. To win your domestic violence case with a self-defense argument, you must show not only that you believed you were in imminent danger but that your belief was reasonable.
When Self-Defense Goes Too Far
Self-defense involves engaging in behavior that would normally be considered a crime but is justifiable under the circumstances. If you hope to fight domestic violence charges by arguing self-defense, you or your attorney will have to establish certain elements of the legal defense, which include the following:
- You (or others) were in imminent danger of suffering physical harm,
- You reasonably believed that the use of force was necessary to defend yourself (or others) against that danger, and
- You only used the amount of force that was necessary to defend against that danger.
In some domestic disputes where both parties can keep a level head and work together to address their issues, it may be possible to resolve the dispute without resorting to physical force or violence. However, in other domestic situations where tensions are high, tempers are flaring and there is a real possibility that physical violence may occur, self-defense may be necessary to protect oneself or others in the house from harm. However, if you claim self-defense as a defense against domestic violence charges and the degree of force used was beyond what a reasonable person would consider necessary under the circumstances, you may not prevail with a self-defense argument.
Can Self-Defense be Manslaughter?
If left unaddressed, domestic disputes can quickly escalate and become deadly, which could lead to criminal charges for manslaughter. However, if your domestic partner puts you in fear of imminent death by threatening to kill you or committing violence against you and you use deadly force to protect yourself from being killed, your actions may be justified under California’s self-defense laws. The key to successfully arguing self-defense in a manslaughter case is establishing that the degree of force used was necessary under the circumstances. For instance, if your partner tells you he is going to kill you and begins choking you and you push him down the stairs, killing him, this would be an example of a potentially deadly situation in which self-defense is justified. On the other hand, if your partner threatens to slap you and you stab him with a knife and kill him, the court will likely decide that the amount of force you used was not reasonably necessary to defend yourself against harm. This is an example of a situation in which self-defense goes too far.
What is the Castle Doctrine?
The Castle Doctrine (Penal Code § 198.5 PC) is a legal principle in California having to do with the use of force in self-defense against others inside a person’s home. The law states that “Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that force is used against another person, not a member of the family or household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.”
What that means is this: California residents do not have a duty to retreat from intruders who have broken into their home. Rather, the Castle Doctrine permits them to use force (up to and including deadly force) against any intruder who unlawfully and forcibly enters or attempts to enter their home. Under this law, if a defendant in this scenario injures or kills another person who has entered their home in lawful self-defense or in defense of another, the defendant is not guilty of a crime. However, because the law explicitly refers to force used against another person “not a member of the family or household,” the Castle Doctrine may not apply to a domestic violence case.
How a Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Can Help
Under normal circumstances, using force or violence against another person would be considered a criminal act. However, if the behavior is justified, meaning it is employed for the purpose of protecting against serious bodily harm or death, self-defense can be a defense to a number of crimes, including domestic violence. If you are facing criminal charges for domestic violence in San Diego, do not hesitate to hire an experienced domestic violence defense attorney to represent your case. Your situation may seem dire, but there is always room for a good defense attorney to challenge the charges, especially if you acted in self-defense. Contact our qualified criminal defense attorneys as soon as possible to discuss your legal options. To speak with someone about your case please contact Sevens Legal, APC.