As humans, we are biologically programmed with a fight or flight response. In most cases, we usually prefer the latter action. We try to avoid conflict as much as possible and hope that it will soon subside. But in some extreme situations, especially if a life depends on it, sometimes we are forced to stand our ground. Resorting to physical force to protect oneself or others is something that no one wants to experience. Yet unfortunately, this is a reality to some people. With that said, California law acknowledges these special instances by covering the subject of self-defense in the penal code PC 12022.53.
Penal code 12022.53 states that using a gun to commit a crime is a felony offense. But given that instances of self-defense may arise, the law included some exemptions.
Under the said PC, an individual may use force to another person as long as it was acted out of reasonable concern for their safety. For instance, if the defendant shot and killed the aggressor while protecting himself from danger, the law will excuse the action as self-defense. Now, the topic of self-defense when used in court can be difficult to navigate. This is to ensure that criminals who are guilty of a crime will not abuse the defense. When presenting a self-defense case, here are some elements that must be proven in order for it to be valid:
- The defendant must strongly believe that his or another person's safety is at risk. This should be backed up by reasonable and irrefutable evidence;
- The amount of force used by the defendant was not excessive -- just enough to get out of harm; and
- The defendant used deadly force to counter a deadly force.
A classic example of a self-defense scenario is robbery. Say that the thief in question holds the victim at gunpoint. If another person responds to the robbery in an attempt to save the victim's life, then that falls under the first bullet where the defendant reasonably believes that a person's life is in danger. Take note that there is an emphasis on the adverb “reasonably”. If the person sees two people acting suspicious and pulls out a gun at them without confirming that illegal activity has taken place, then that is not under self-defense. Likewise, if someone pinches you, it would not be reasonable to point a knife at them. Such action would go against the second bullet. This is because the threat used by the defendant far outweighs the action of the aggressor. Finally, shooting someone in self-defense can only be valid if you are confronted with an equal or greater deadly force. A terrorist holding an explosive device in a public area can permit the use of a firearm to protect other people.
Punishment for Imperfect Self-Defense under PC 12022.53
In some cases, the court rules your self-defense act as "unreasonable". If so, then you may transition to a case of “imperfect self-defense”. An example of an imperfect self-defense situation is when the defendant uses an unreasonable amount of force to defend himself. Punching an attacker many times even after he has made it clear that he wants to leave the scene, for instance, can be a case of imperfect self-defense.
Imperfect self-defense means that you will still be penalized for your action, but not as serious as it should be. If you murdered someone under imperfect self-defense, you will not face the intended punishments for the crime of murder. Instead, your case will be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter. This conviction will then lead to the following penalties:
- A sentence of 3, 6, or 11 years in California State Prison
- A fine of $10,000
- Additional punishments, such as firearm ownership restriction and counseling may be imposed.
Both murder and voluntary manslaughter are felonies under federal law. If proven guilty of committing such crimes, it can have permanent damaging consequences on your life. One can attempt to use self-defense to excuse violent behavior, but keep in mind that such a case is often your words against theirs. Moreover, this article covers only the tip of the iceberg; there's still a lot more things to unpack. Therefore, it is advisable to hire a professional that knows the ins and outs of the law. One of our criminal defense attorneys at The Office or Raoul Severo will discuss these concepts more thoroughly to you.
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