You likely would never anticipate having to face a criminal charge (let alone one as serious as assault, manslaughter or murder). At the same time, you cannot predict not ever finding yourself in a situation where another threatened the immediate your safety (or that of one you loved).

The law certainly does not require that in such a situation, you resign yourself to your fate. Yet it may also not be unreasonable to assume that there are limits to the extent that you can defend yourself (and/or others). If, for example, you respond to a threat to such a degree that your attacker ends up dead, does the law say that you have gone too far? The answer to that question depends on the circumstances.

Defending yourself with deadly force

You may feel that threat you faced justified you responding with deadly force; the standard the law uses to define justifiable homicide, however, will be what determines what sort of criminal scrutiny you may face (if any). Per California’s Criminal Jury Instructions, that standard includes:

  • You believing that you (or another) was in imminent danger of suffering death, serious injury or another forcible crime at the hands of an attacker
  • You believing that the necessary response to that threat was deadly force
  • Your forceful response being no more than was necessary to eliminate the threat

Determining the reasonableness of your response

That last requirement goes a long way in determining the reasonableness of your actions. Whatever will neutralize the threat you (or another) face typically sets the bar in this regard. If evidence suggests (either through eyewitness testimony or forensic indicators) that you had little choice but to use deadly force in other to sufficiently protect yourself, then it may be difficult to scrutinize your response.