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Headlines involving a shooting of a 17-year-old boy by a neighborhood crime watch volunteer has brought national attention to a well-known legal principal we call “Self Defense”.  The controversy over this shooting, excluding the racial posturing, involved the use of a gun when the other person did not have a weapon.

Can a person in California use a gun in a fistfight?  Legally, the answer is yes.  In California a person may be allowed to “stand their ground” and may use deadly force against someone without a weapon, but only if the circumstances surrounding the incident satisfies the elements of a legally recognized self-defense.

There appears to be some confusion when someone in California can use self-defense.  The law clearly permits a person to use a reasonable amount of force for self-defense when the person believes he/she is in imminent danger of bodily harm and the person has reasonable grounds for that belief.  The question is not whether looking back you believe the amount of force is necessary.  The question is did the person under the circumstances actually believed he/she was in imminent danger of bodily harm and if the belief was reasonable.  Several key terms like what is “reasonable, imminent, or harm” have been defined by case law and the court’s interpretation of these key terms must be taken into consideration when examining your self-defense case.
Basically this legal principle comes from the Castle doctrine that states a person does not have to retreat from an intruder that attacks them in their home.  Since your home is considered your castle, you are allowed to stand your ground and are not required to run away.  Many states have adopted this legal concept of self defense by stating a person does not have to run if he/she is being beaten and the person reasonably believed that he/she needed to meet this force with equal or greater force.  But, before you decide to stand your ground and use deadly force, other critical elements of self-defense must be satisfied.

Generally speaking, the person must not have been the one to provoke the confrontation.  Did the person believe he/she would suffer an unlawful threat of death or grievous bodily harm?  Was the threat imminent that homicidal self-defense was the only option?  Would any other reasonable person in the same situation have made the same decision?

Although, the right of self-defense is a legal principle with deep roots in American jurisprudence, it may only be used if it is relevant and there is some evidence of self-defense.  Since the laws can vary from state to state and change from one year to the next you should not consider the information in this post as legal advice or a legal strategy for your own case needs.

It is imperative to consult with an experienced and skilled criminal defense attorney that can evaluate the evidence and circumstances to determine if deadly use of force is a viable self-defense option in your case.  Call me at 858-279-5800 or email at