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Can I Use Lethal Force to Defend Myself in California?

A Huntingdon Beach jewelry store owner said he fought fire with fire when exchanging gunfire with several would-be robbers in early September 2022.

The owner, who said he used the firearm to defend himself and his property, was uninjured. While one suspect was arrested, the others are still evading police.

In California, individuals can use lethal force to defend themselves if the force is proportionate to the harm they feared.

Self-Defense Laws in California

Laws governing self-defense vary from state to state. In the Golden State, the right to use force – even deadly force – is an allowable defense against charges such as murder, manslaughter, and aggravated battery. The state’s jury instructions allow defendants to use self-defense to justify their actions. If the defense proves self-defense, the jury could acquit the defendant.

Homicide may be justifiable in the following cases:

  • When resisting any attempt to murder any person, or to commit a felony, or to do some great bodily injury upon any person
  • When committed in defense of habitation, property, or person, against one who manifestly intends or endeavors, by violence or surprise, to commit a felony, or against one who manifestly intends and endeavors, in a violent, riotous, or tumultuous manner, to enter the habitation of another for the purpose of offering violence to any person therein
  • When committed in the lawful defense of such person, or of a spouse, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant of such person, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony or to do some great bodily injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished; but such person, or the person in whose behalf the defense was made, if he or she was the assailant or engaged in mutual combat, must really and in good faith have endeavored to decline any further struggle before the homicide was committed
  • When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed, or in lawfully suppressing any riot, or in lawfully keeping and preserving the peace.

In most circumstances, the person defending themselves cannot use self-defense if they were the initial aggressor. There are exceptions.

The Duty to Retreat

Every state has some form of self-defense laws that allow its residents to use force to protect themselves against injury or death. Some states are considered “stand your ground” jurisdictions where a person has no duty to retreat (or attempt to) before using deadly force in self-defense. In other states, the duty to retreat is required in all circumstances. California falls between these two extremes.

California is not a stand-your-ground state. However, the state does recognize a principle called the Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine follows that a person inside their home does not have to retreat before using deadly force. The name comes from something said by English parliament member and writer Sir Edward Coke: “A man’s house is his castle and fortress, and (his) home is his safest refuge.”

The Castle Doctrine in California does not extend beyond one’s home.

Proving Self-Defense

The jury must determine the following is true before accepting self-defense:

  • The defendant reasonably believed that they or another person was in imminent danger of harm
  • The defendant reasonably believed the use of force was necessary to defend against the danger
  • The defendant used the amount of force necessary to defend themselves or others

Reasonable feature of imminent peril of death or substantial injury is presumed when someone unlawfully enters a residence.

Standing Up for Your Right to Defend Yourself

If you must use force to protect yourself or others, contact us right away. Our legal team at Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC will immediately begin to strategize your defense and fight vigorously to keep you from being penalized for your justifiable actions.

Schedule a consultation with Corrigan Welbourn Stokke, APLC by submitting our online form or calling (949) 251-0330.