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What are the Rules on Self Defense in California?

Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation April 26, 2023

Angry woman defending herself from a thiefThirty or more states have legislation or judicial standards that allow reasonable or even deadly force to defend oneself or others who are being physically threatened. These laws come from the common law principle of the “castle doctrine,” which permits the use of force to protect yourself against an intruder in your home.  

At least ten of these states have “stand your ground” laws that apply the principle of self-defense within and outside of one’s home, and another eight states, including California, recognize the use of deadly force in self-defense through judicial decisions or jury instructions.  

If you are facing a criminal charge in or around Modesto, California, and you feel you exercised your right to self-defense in the act for which you are being charged, contact the criminal defense attorney at Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation.  

Attorney Ryan Roth will aggressively defend you in the exercise of your rights to self-defense and will pursue the best possible outcome to protect your future. His legal practice also serves clients in Stockton, Manteca, Merced, and throughout California. 

What Is Considered Self-Defense in Legal Terms?

A claim of self-defense can be used in an instance where the defendant is being accused of a violent crime, such as assault, battery, manslaughter, or murder. In making the claim, the defendant admits to using force or violence but did so to defend themselves, or others.   

To prove the claim, the defendant must show that the actions were in response to the aggression by another and were proportionate to the actions of the other person. Proportionate can also be interpreted as a “reasonable” response. You can’t, for example, pull out a gun on someone who merely shoves you. That’s neither reasonable nor proportionate. 

What Is the Castle Doctrine?

The castle doctrine, which is the basis of many nationwide self-defense statutes or court decisions, rests on the proposition that “a man’s home is his castle.” Of course, a man in this case, means any individual and the common law principle maintains that a person is entitled to defend themselves if an intruder violates their premises. Under this principle, you do not have to retreat but can use force to defend yourself and your property. 

Self-Defense and Stand Your Ground in California

Neither the California Constitution nor any enacted law institutionalizes “stand your ground.” Instead, the California Penal Code Section 198.5 recognizes the castle doctrine. Under this section of the code, if someone forces their way into your residence, and you have a "reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury," you can use force – even deadly force – to defend yourself.  

As for stand your ground, the California Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) state:  

"A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury /<insert forcible and atrocious crime>) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating."  

However, in practical terms, this does not mean a victim, or a person in fear of their safety, can act in any way other than how a “reasonable person” would. This generally means that the victim, or defendant in a self-defense case, must have been in imminent danger of suffering great bodily harm or even being killed and responded with no more force than was reasonably necessary for self-defense. Note that you do not have to retreat but can even pursue the assailant. 

Look to Strong Legal Representation 

If you’re being charged with a crime that stems from what you believe was self-defense, or the defense of others in or around Modesto, California, contact the criminal defense attorney at Roth Legal, A Professional Law Corporation.   

Your future is at stake, and Attorney Ryan Roth will work with you on a solid, comprehensive defense strategy to achieve the best possible result while aggressively defending your rights.