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Elements of self-defense: Where do you stand?

| Sep 18, 2020 | Violent Offenses |

You get into an altercation with another person, and it turns physical. You both get arrested. The whole thing is caught on video — maybe it happened outside of a bar or a restaurant — and you don’t ever dispute that the physical encounter took place. It did.

What you take issue with is the fact that the police blame you for what happened. You wanted nothing to do with that altercation. You were just defending yourself. Don’t you have a right to protect yourself in the United States? Where do you stand when it comes to self-defense?

Your rights

First and foremost, you do have a right to defend yourself. It stems from your general right to peace and safety as an American citizen. If someone else threatens you, they have already violated that right, and you don’t have to accept that. You can protect yourself.

To understand exactly what you can and cannot do, take look at the three main elements of a self-defense claim:

  1. The attack itself needs to be unprovoked; it’s not self-defense if you goad someone else into attacking you.
  2. You have to fear for your life or for imminent injury. You must reasonably think that you are in danger to defend yourself from that danger.
  3. The degree of force that you use has to be reasonable to the situation. It generally cannot be much greater than the force used against you.

This last point is sometimes a sticking point in these cases. Just because you were attacked doesn’t mean you can do anything. If someone slaps you and you strike them with a fist, for instance, that is a reasonable and similar reaction. If they slap you and you use a firearm, you probably cannot claim self-defense unless you can show that you reasonably feared for your own life.

In other words, you can take self-defense too far if you use too much force, invalidating your claim. This is why you must be careful whenever you are engaged in a physical conflict with someone else.

Your options

If you’ve been accused of assault and/or battery in Tennessee and you believe it was just self-defense, be sure you understand what legal options you have.

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