It is legal in California to defend yourself if you reasonably believe that you or someone else is in imminent danger. This is called “self defense.”

Self defense can include actions like:

  • Pushing someone down a staircase to prevent them from harming you
  • Spraying an attacker with mace to protect someone else
  • Killing someone who is imminently endangering your life

If you act in self defense, California law says that you may use no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend yourself.

In order to show that you legally acted in self defense, you must prove:

  1. You reasonably believed that you were in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury.
  2. You reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger. 
  3. You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger. 

In other words, you have to show that you were in a situation of imminent danger. This could include situations like an assault at a bar, someone brandishing a knife, someone trying to steal your purse or cornering you in a secluded area.

The judge or jury will then consider the circumstances of the case to decide if an everyday person would agree that a use of force was necessary and appropriate in that situation.

Example: Tina is leaving a party late at night and is alone on the street. A man emerges from an alleyway and closely approaches her. She stabs him, and he dies from his injuries. This could be an appropriate use of force for the situation.

However, let’s say Tina was still at the party, surrounded by people in a social situation. If she were simply approached by a stranger, she might not be justified in stabbing him.

Is California a ‘Stand Your Ground’ state?

California is a “Stand Your Ground” state. This means that you are under no duty to retreat if you wish to claim self defense. 

Even if it would have been safer to flee, you are allowed to remain present and defend yourself.

Does California have ‘Castle Doctrine?’

California is a “Castle Doctrine” state. You are under no duty to retreat if an intruder comes into your home. 

Under Penal Code 198.5 PC, a home intruder automatically creates a situation of “reasonable fear of imminent harm.” This means you are justified in using deadly force to defend your home against an intruder.

Can you go to jail for killing someone in self defense?

The short answer is yes, you can go to jail for killing someone in self defense. But, if the court finds that your actions were justified, then you will not be convicted of a crime.

For example, if you reasonably believe that someone was about to kill you and you killed them first, then you would likely be found not guilty of murder.

However, if the court finds that your actions were not justified, then you could be convicted of a crime like manslaughter or even murder.

The bottom line is that it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in regards to your case. An attorney can help you understand the law and determine if your actions are likely to be considered justified under the circumstances.

“Robert Helfend is one of the best criminal defense attorneys I’ve ever worked with. He was so knowledgeable, and always made sure I understood everything every step of the way. I would definitely recommend him to anyone who wants an understanding, caring, and truly helpful lawyer.” Pat, CA

It can take time for the facts of a self defense case to come to light. This is how normally law abiding people can find themselves accused of crimes, when all they did was defend themselves or someone else.

Even though you were acting within your rights, it is important to work with a skilled defense attorney until the case is closed.

Your attorney will work to safeguard your constitutionally guaranteed rights against aggressive investigators, zealous prosecutors and the hearsay of other people who might have been involved. Hiring an attorney is not an admission of guilt. It is a sign you are prepared to defend yourself.

Robert M. Helfend has defended hundreds of self defense cases in more than 40 years in the courtroom, from assault to murder. He is rated by SuperLawyers, Lead Counsel and the National Trial Lawyers Top 100. Call today for your free case evaluation.