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“Self-defense is Nature’s eldest law.” – John Dryden.
Self-defense is a term that most people know, even those people who are not in the legal field. If someone hits you, you are justified to hit them back. What does self-defense means in terms of criminal law though?
Self Defense as an Instruction to a Jury at Trial
Self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means that a person is not simply denying their conduct, but that they are offering evidence as to why they did that criminal act. A defense attorney’s goal is to avoid a conviction to the crime. In many courts, clients will claim self-defense to assault charges. If the case were to go to trial, the jury would be instructed that it is a defense to the charge of assault that the force used was lawful. When the Court allows the jury to hear this instruction, the prosecutor then has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used by the defendant was not lawful.
What is lawful force? This can get tricky. It’s usually easier to give an example of what is likely NOT lawful. Let’s say that you get into a fight with a friend. The friend slaps you in the face, and then you pull out a gun and shoot them. This would likely not be lawful. Let’s say, though, that after that friend slaps you, then you punch them two times. Is that lawful? You can see how this gets tricky.
Defense of Others or Property
We have been talking about self-defense regarding individual people, but what about defending others or defending your property? State v. Mierz illustrates that you must be in lawful possession of something to try to claim self-defense over that object or animal. State v. Bland illustrates that you can use necessary force against a “malicious trespass” even though you do not reasonably believe that you are going to be injured.
Recent Case Involving Self-Defense
The Washington Court of Appeals Division III just released a case on June 11th, 2019, that discusses a unique area of self-defense. This case is State v. Tullar. In Okanogan County Jail, Johnathan Cook was assaulted by Brandon Tullar. Mr. Tullar did not testify, but two inmates testified that Mr. Cook hit Mr. Tullar first, put him in a chokehold, and then Mr. Tullar defended himself. The trial court did not allow Mr. Tullar to use a self-defense jury instruction because he did not testify about his own subjective fear regarding the assault. The Court of Appeals ruled that “the law allows Tullar to establish his subjective fear by circumstantial evidence through the testimony of others.” This helps defendants who do not want to testify, but have witnesses who can testify for them.
How We Can Help
If you have gotten into an altercation with someone, but it was out of self-defense, contact us immediately. We stay up to date on the law and the cases surrounding self-defense, and we will use this to help you avoid a conviction. In fact, Attorney ALISON GANEM just obtained (on 09/10/19) a not guilty verdict for our client charged with Assault in the 4th degree in King County where self defense was presented. In that case the jury even awarded attorney’s fees requiring the State to compensate the Defendant for the cost of hiring our firm.