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What Is Defensive Homicide?

On Behalf of | Oct 25, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Homicide is always a serious charge and can come with extremely harsh legal consequences. In cases of self-defense, proving the intent behind a defendant’s actions is crucial for avoiding a full-scale murder conviction. Understanding what defensive homicide charges consist of, as well as how they differ from other homicide charges, is essential for creating a comprehensive case.

What Is Homicide?

Homicide is the intentional or unintentional act of aiding and abetting in another person’s death. The California Penal Code clearly distinguishes between murder and homicide depending on intent. For instance, California Penal Code Section 187 defines murder as the willful death of a person for an unlawful purpose, but Section 192 distinguishes between murder and manslaughter based on intent. This distinction is critical for the foundation of charges when accusing someone of any homicide-related offense, and it’s crucial to comprehend this difference so that a skilled legal team can adequately prepare for court. For defensive homicide, the intent to kill is present when committing the crime; however, the lack of malice differentiates these actions from first- or second-degree murder.

What Counts as Self-Defense?

Self-defense is the necessary use of force, aggression, or lethal force to defend oneself or another from harm or danger. If someone reasonably believes that a threat is present—that someone is likely to suffer physical damage or are in danger— then that person may act in self-defense, according to California law. By law, the defendant must demonstrate the following in order to successfully establish self-defense:

  • They had a good faith belief that they or another person was about to be harmed, murdered, or severely injured.
  • They had a legitimate reason to assume that defending against that threat would require the use of force immediately.
  • They merely employed the appropriate level of force that was deemed reasonably required to protect themselves from harm.
  • The initial attacker instigated the conflict.

Understanding these stipulations is the key to formulating any strong defensive homicide case. If you were merely defending yourself when you used force or aggression against someone else but were arrested or charged with doing so, you need to contact a seasoned criminal defense lawyer right away. A skilled attorney can decide if there is a strong legal defense and help prove no more force than was reasonably required to defend one’s self or “stand your ground.”

How Does California’s Stand Your Ground Law Work?

A “Stand Your Ground ” law says that if you want to assert your right to self-defense, you are not required to retreat. California’s self-defense laws give people the freedom to use force to protect themselves or others if they feel threatened or endangered due to aggressive other parties. In California, a defendant has the right to use force to defend themselves and pursue an attacker until there is no longer a risk of serious physical harm, death, or any other offense. This is true even if retreating would have brought about safety. The Castle Doctrine may apply in some cases if the attack or other incident took place on their land.

What Is the Castle Doctrine?

A home invasion automatically generates a condition of “reasonable fear of impending injury” under Penal Code 198.5 PC. This means that if someone tries to break into your home, you have a right to defend it with deadly force. According to the Castle Doctrine, everyone in California has the right to use violence or lethal force to defend or protect themselves and their loved ones from an intruder (a burglar or break-in) on the defendant’s property or any other area that is lawfully occupied. You are not compelled to retreat when confronting a burglar or invader in your home under the Castle Doctrine, so in instances where you are led to a confrontation, you will not be further penalized for this decision. Additionally, you have the right to use deadly force in self-defense to stop a forced entry.

Frequently Asked Questions About Defensive Homicide

Q: What is the punishment for defensive homicide?

A: You will not be found guilty of a crime if the court decides that your conduct was appropriate. For instance, you would probably not be found guilty of murder if you killed the person whom you had a good reason to believe was going to kill you first. However, you might be found guilty of manslaughter or murder if the court decides that your acts were not justified, leading to extended jail time.

Q: Do California defensive homicide laws differ from other states?

A: A prosecutor may bring a variety of charges under California law, from first-degree murder to unintentional manslaughter. To defend oneself from severe damage, one may have the legal right to use lethal force. California’s self-defense laws permit killing in some circumstances. The justifications for manslaughter include having a reasonable belief that you or others are in immediate danger of death, great bodily injury (GBI), sexual assault, robbery, or another forcible violent crime.

Q: How do you prove an act of homicide is defensive?

A: You must be able to demonstrate that you reasonably believed you were in danger of being physically hurt, that using force immediately was necessary to protect yourself from that danger, and that you used no more force than was reasonably required to do so to establish that you acted in self-defense under the law.

Q: Is defensive homicide considered defendable?

A: All crimes, regardless of subject matter, are considered legally defendable; however, in terms of defensive homicide, the justification behind the crime is what makes it legally justified.

Each case is different, and when presented to the court, the jury will decide whether or not the actions caused by the deceased justified your use of force or were out of line.

Seeking Legal Help for Defensive Homicide

The facts of a defensive homicide case may not surface right away, and proving that a defendant’s actions were in self-defense requires substantial evidence. Even though someone may have acted legally, it’s still crucial to engage with a knowledgeable defense lawyer until the case is resolved. At Exum Law Offices, we can help create a solid self-defense argument for your case, so contact us today to get started.