Pleading Self Defense
Generally, physically attacking another person is unacceptable behavior. However, there is one important legal and moral exception to this: if was necessary to injure or kill another person to save yourself or someone else from injury or death, you have not committed a crime. The law acknowledges every citizen’s right to self defense.
Self defense is considered an “affirmative defense,” meaning it provides justification for the defendant’s actions, rather than denying them. If a defendant in a court of law pleads not guilty due to self defense, it is the prosecution’s job to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the amount of force used by the defendant was not in fact necessary. They may do this by making one of two basic arguments: that self defense was not required in that situation, or that the defendant used excessive force, meaning that he or she hurt the other person more than was necessary.
When is Self Defense a Valid Plea?
Legally, when is self defense permissible? Self defense is only legal when you or another person is immediate danger from an attacker and violence is the only reasonable way to stop it. Simply being provoked or challenged to a fight is not grounds for self defense. Distant or potential threats are not, either. You or someone else must be in danger of being injured immediately.
How much force is necessary? You may defend yourself with force equal to your attacker’s, or with the level of force necessary to stay safe. You may not, for example, shoot a shoplifter; nor is it legal to continue attacking someone who is backing away or otherwise showing that they are no longer a threat.