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Understanding what is considered self defense in California

Like many states across the country, an individual's right to use deadly force to protect both his or her person and property is widely accepted in California as well. Under California Penal Code § 198.5 - 199, otherwise known as the Castle Doctrine, a claim of self-defense can be utilized in one of two situations.

First, a defendant has a right to protect both himself and his household from an imminent threat of bodily harm or death. Second, the defendant also has a right to protect his or her own home, real property or place of business from invasion by another as well.

Much like other states where they have "stand-your-ground" laws in place, in California, those who wish to claim the Castle Doctrine defense must be able to show that their actions were warranted. While a defendant doesn't have to prove he or she made any attempt to retreat, in the event the individual is indeed able to successfully flee his or her property, he or she is not able to protect it from afar.

Additionally, any defendant claiming the Castle Doctrine defense is required to prove that the force he or she utilized in defending his or her property was not excessive. The standard for doing this includes showing that the harm caused by the intruder did not exceed the risk-to-self that the defendant feared him or herself.

In trying a case in which the Castle Doctrine defense is claimed, all jurors are provided with instructions written by California Judicial Council. They outline what the Castle Doctrine is and the rights afforded to defendants when claiming this type of defense. These instructions also explicitly spell out the circumstances that, if present, would be considered to have gone beyond the scope of justifiable action as well.

As for a defendant deemed to have acted in self-defense in accordance with Castle Doctrine, even in cases resulting in homicide, the jury instructions explicitly state that he or she should be found not guilty of the alleged offense. In cases like these, the instructions spell how, upon his or her trial, the defendant should be not only acquitted, but discharged as well.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a serious crime to which you are considering claiming self-defense, an Orange County, California, criminal defense attorney can provide advice and guidance in your legal matter.

Source: FindLaw.com, "California self defense laws," accessed March 15, 2017

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