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Is Defense of Others a Defense to Battery in California?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

According to Penal Code 240, the crime of battery is when a person willfully and intentionally uses physical force to harm another person. The accusation of such a crime can cause a multitude of difficulties in a person’s life, including harming relationships and altering their reputation in the community. However, an accusation alone does not mean there is guilt. There are situations where someone may feel it necessary to use physical force against a person because it is the only way to prevent harm to another.

One form of defense against battery is the defense of others. Under this plea, your attorney will argue that physical force was necessary. Understanding how the defense works can help you and your defense attorney determine if it is the right defense for you.

Defense of Others

The statutes that define defending others follow closely to those of self-defense. Under these statutes, if a person believes that they or others are in imminent danger, they are allowed to use physical force (including the use of deadly force) to help prevent harm.

If you are accused of battery and use this defense, it may be easily justifiable to you and your criminal defense attorney, but it still must be proven to the jury to be acquitted. Unfortunately, the concept of imminent danger is subjective and therefore requires a skillful presentation of the facts that prove the danger was reasonable.

Imminent danger means that you or another person believed there was a likelihood of great physical bodily harm or death that was going to occur. If a jury is to acquit under this law, you must prove that:

  • You reasonably acted in defense. ‘Reasonable’ indicates that another individual who was in the same situation would feel it necessary to act in a similar way.
  • The amount of force was reasonable in that a person in the same situation would feel it necessary to use the same force to prevent bodily harm or death from occurring.

Reasonableness is the most difficult to prove in defense of other cases. Proving the physical altercation did or didn’t happen is irrelevant; this type of case is a matter of proving that others in the same situation would act in the same manner based on the perceived threat.

Proving that you were defending another person will require consideration of the following conditions:

  • The defendant had some sort of relationship between themselves and the person they were defending.
  • The defendant did not provoke or initiate the altercation.
  • The knowledge at the time is what is used to justify the defense. For example, if a person uses excessive force to defend another and is held criminally accountable, but it later is revealed that the person who was the aggressor was a sexual predator and it was unknown at the time, that information would not matter because it had no connection to the case at hand.
  • The defendant must not have been involved in the commission of another crime at the time the battery happened. If they were, they would not be able to use the defense of others.

The Application of the Rule

There is one main determining factor in applying this defense to your battery case: would the victim have used the same force in self-defense? This is one way to prove the reasonableness of the defense. If the victim would not do so, then the defense may be inadequate for your charges which could result in the criminal charges sticking.

One way to think of the defense is to consider its other commonly used name, the rule of alter ego. Think of two people performing a fight scene in a public place. A passerby who is unaware it is a staged incident sees two people “fighting.” They attempt to break up the fight and cause injury to one of the people because they perceive that individual to be the aggressor. In this situation, the person who caused the harm would be held criminally responsible because their use of force was unnecessary. There was no danger involved. Using this rule can help to make sense of reasonableness.

Defense of Others and Deadly Force

If you are acting in defense of others and it is reasonable to use deadly force to stop the imminent threat, then yes, deadly force is an option. However, like the other elements of the crime, it must be shown that you acted reasonably. If, for example, you witnessed someone push another person and then used deadly force to protect them, that would not be reasonable because the push was not equal to the initial threat.


Q: What Is a Valid Defense for Battery?

A: There are many defenses for battery, and your case’s circumstances can help determine which is best for you. However, the two most used are self-defense and defense of others. In both, the person accused of battery reasonably used force to prevent imminent danger from causing significant bodily harm or death to themselves or others.

Q: What Is Not a Defense Against Battery?

A: While two individuals can agree to an altercation, this consent must be apparent and obvious. If a person chooses to use consent as a defense for battery, they must prove that both sides of the altercation were equally responsible for the altercation. Arguing that a person refused to consent but still instigated is not a valid defense.

Q: How to Get Out of a Battery Charge?

A: “Getting out of charges” can be difficult; however, applying the proper defense to your battery charges can help reach an acquittal, a reduction of charges, or can lead to a dismissal of your charges. Defenses such as self-defense, defense of others, misidentification, or even an accidental altercation are common.

Q: What Does Defense of Others Mean?

A: This defense means that you felt another person was in imminent danger of bodily harm or death, and you used reasonable force to prevent the harm from occurring. Under this defense, the force used must be reasonable and equal to the force of the aggressor. In this defense, you must prove reasonableness for it to be considered.

Criminal Defense Attorney

Battery charges can carry significant weight if convicted. These charges can be defended, and your criminal defense attorney will be able to look at the circumstances of your case to determine the right course of action. If you or someone you know is facing battery charges, contact the Exum Law Offices and get the expertise your case deserves.