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When Self-Defense Leads to Domestic Violence Charges

istrfry-marcus-i9ikCx-0Pk8-unsplash-300x169Domestic violence doesn’t occur in a vacuum; physical contact is rarely a one-way street where the assailant attacks while the victim does nothing. Our instinct is to respond physically to defend ourselves against an attacker, sometimes to the point of striking back accordingly. However, in California, when police respond to a domestic violence call and conduct an investigation, they are required by law to arrest someone if they see evidence that violence occurred. Unfortunately, sometimes, they make wrong assumptions and arrest the wrong person. Thus, it’s not uncommon for someone to be charged with domestic violence when they are actually defending themselves against their partner. 

This is a challenging and complex situation to navigate. On one hand, you were simply trying to protect yourself in the heat of the moment. On the other hand, the evidence and common assumptions may work against you even though you are innocent. This wrong assumption can also be reinforced if your partner decides to “play the victim” to shield themselves from scrutiny. 

That being said, if you were truly defending yourself, the law is on your side; you just need a skillful criminal defense attorney to navigate the situation. Let’s discuss this common dilemma and discuss your options.


Understanding Self-Defense Under California Law

California law acknowledges the right to self-defense, allowing individuals to protect themselves or others from immediate harm. This principle is rooted in the belief that everyone has the inherent right to use reasonable force to defend against threats or physical harm. 

Self-defense in California is recognized as a legal justification for using force against another person when you reasonably believe that you are in imminent danger of being harmed or killed. The law stipulates three criteria for an act to be considered self-defense:

  • Immediacy: You must show that the threat of harm was immediate and present at the moment of the confrontation.
  • Proportionality: The force used in defense must be proportional to the threat faced. This means you cannot use excessive force beyond necessary to fend off the danger.
  • Reasonableness: Your belief in the necessity of force must be reasonable under the circumstances. This includes considering whether there were any viable alternatives to using force.

In the context of domestic violence, these principles remain applicable. Still, they are often scrutinized more closely due to the nature of the relationships involved and the private settings in which these incidents typically occur.


Strategies for Preparing a Self-Defense Claim

While the letter of the law says you’re innocent until proven guilty, natural biases often mean that proving self-defense in a domestic violence charge can be an uphill battle. A skilled criminal defense attorney will need to employ several strategies to substantiate a self-defense claim. These strategies include, but are not limited to: 

  • Gathering Evidence: Collecting medical reports, photographs of injuries, witness statements, and any other relevant evidence that supports the claim of self-defense. This may also involve procuring a forensics expert to review physical evidence to show which damage was likely done by which partner.
  • Demonstrating Reasonableness: Establishing that your perception of the threat and the subsequent response were reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Highlighting the Lack of Safe Retreat: Demonstrating that retreating from the threat was not a viable option.
  • Presenting a Consistent Narrative: Ensuring that your account of events remains consistent across all stages of the legal process.
  • Character Defense: Presenting evidence of your non-violent character and possibly the accuser’s history of violence, if applicable, to frame the context of the incident.
  • Expert Testimony: Employing self-defense experts to testify about the reasonableness of your actions under the circumstances.
  • Cross-Examination: Strategically questioning your accuser and witnesses to expose inconsistencies or motives that may discredit their accounts of the incident.


Best Practices for Defendants

If you’re accused of domestic violence and are planning to use the self-defense argument, there are some essential dos and don’ts to keep in mind to bolster your defense and avoid accidentally self-sabotaging your case.


  • Seek Legal Representation Immediately: Engage with a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling self-defense cases within the context of domestic violence charges.
  • Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of the incident, including injuries, damages, medical records, and any communications that may support your claim of self-defense.
  • Follow Legal Advice: Adhere strictly to the guidance provided by your attorney, including refraining from certain communications or actions that could compromise your defense.


  • Engage with Your Accuser: Avoid direct contact with your accuser, which could lead to further complications or allegations.
  • Discuss the Case on Social Media: Public statements about the case can be used against you in court. Maintain privacy and let your legal team handle communications.
  • Tamper with Evidence: While you believe yourself to be innocent, you may be tempted to move or conceal evidence that suggests you were the perpetrator rather than the victim. Avoid this impulse at all costs. Tampering with evidence can have severe legal consequences.


Moving Forward With Hope and Empowerment

Claiming self-defense in the face of domestic violence charges requires a nuanced, evidence-based approach. Understanding your rights under California law and partnering with an experienced criminal defense attorney can significantly improve your chances of presenting a successful defense. While facing these charges can be frightening, remember that California law does recognize the right to self-defense, and with the right approach, it is possible to navigate these challenges successfully. You are not alone in this journey, and there is a path forward that leads to hope and empowerment. For compassionate legal defense in Los Angeles and Southern California, contact our offices today to schedule an appointment.

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