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Self-Defense in Domestic Violence Cases

Posted by Joseph Tully | Jul 03, 2017

The dictionary definition of violence is “the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy.” Under California law, domestic violence doesn't necessarily mean there was any type of physical interaction.

Threats to carry out harm against a person or their relatives are considered grounds for a domestic violence arrest. We see the results of these claims constantly in courthouses throughout San Francisco County and Contra Costa County.

Many individuals charged with domestic violence were only trying to protect themselves, but a self defense strategy is risky. An experienced domestic violence attorney can help you prove you were not the aggressor in the situation.

It's crucial to contact a lawyer immediately after an arrest, and not speak to the police without the attorney present.

Imminent Danger

California self defense law allows people to take reasonable action to defend themselves if they feel they are in imminent danger. Such strategies are most effective when other evidence shows the person filing the complaint started the altercation. If the person pulled a knife or gun on you, whacking them in the head with the nearest heavy object is likely considered reasonable self defense.

If the person was simply raising his or her voice, hitting them won't meet the self defense criteria. If the person was threatening harm to you but hadn't touched you and had no weapon, self defense becomes a murky area.

“Imminent” usually means right then and there, so if a partner threatened you previously, it is difficult to argue self defense if you waited to use physical force.

However, a lawyer might establish that you were in a state of fear of harm because of the previous actions of the person accusing you. Any self defense strategy boils down to whether your actions during the incident were reasonable or unreasonable.

Victim vs. Violator

No matter the circumstances, much of a case comes down to appearances, unless there is strong evidence in favor of self defense.

A smaller woman claiming her actions were self defense against a larger man appears on the surface as more credible than the opposing scenario. However, if she was lunging at the man with a knife, he has the right to defend himself against the potential assault if he can prove she reasonable presented harm to him first. If she does not have a weapon but tries to hit him first, his defense still must be “reasonable.”

Grabbing her by the arms to stop her is reasonable; knocking her unconscious is not. Since the entire case may rest on “he said, she said,” along with evidence of any injuries, it is imperative that the accused hire a skilled lawyer who can mount a thorough investigation of the incident.

Defending Another or Defending Your Children

California law also allows for someone to take “reasonable measures” to protect a third party from imminent danger, often a child. As with personal self defense, you must “reasonably believe that the other person is in imminent danger of being killed, injured, or touched unlawfully.”

Defense of Property

In certain cases, California's defense of property law may apply, if the danger to your property was imminent. If your ex shows up at your house with a baseball bat and starts breaking your windows or destroying your car, you have the right to physically restrain him or her in defense of your property.

Again, reasonable physical restraint in the protection of property does not mean taking the bat from her and striking them in the head.

Proving Reasonable Force in Self Defense

An experienced domestic violence lawyer works to prove you exerted only reasonable force. Each domestic violence case is different, and it's safe to say that many of them are complicated.

To keep you from being convicted, your attorney must prove to the court or jury that you had reasonable grounds to believe you were in imminent danger and you had to defend yourself, and that you exerted no more force than necessary to defend yourself.

A judge or jury can take into consideration whether your accuser made previous threats to cause you harm, or actually did harm you in the past. Evidence such as threatening texts, emails or voicemails can bolster your self defense claim.

Experienced CA Domestic Violence Attorneys

When you're accused of domestic violence, you're facing either misdemeanor or felony charges. Besides potential fines and jail time, a conviction can ruin your career and you could lose your home and/or custody of your children.

With a felony conviction, your right to possess firearms is permanently banned. With a misdemeanor conviction, it is banned for 10 years.

Tully and Weiss criminal lawyers represent people accused of domestic violence all over Northern California, from Berkeley to Sacramento and from Concord to Hayward and San Jose If you are charged with domestic violence, call us at once for a confidential discussion of your options and definitely ask about our record in DV cases. It's flawless in Contra Costa County, Alameda County and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

About the Author

Joseph Tully

Founding Partner, Criminal Law Specialist Our founding attorney, Joseph Tully, is sought out for his expert legal advice throughout California. With over 20 years of experience as a criminal lawyer, in 1000+ felony and other cases, Tully served as felony trial counsel as a public defender before...