Legal Blog

When Self-Defense Turns into Assault

Every state has certain laws that allow a person to use self-defense. It’s long been accepted that there are times where a person has the right to defend themselves and their property. This dates back hundreds of years, all the way back to when we first came over from England.

Basically, if someone is attacking you, it makes sense that you can defend yourself. The rules get a little fuzzier when it comes to protecting your property. And, it gets even more confusing when it comes to protecting someone other than yourself.

Most states break down when it’s okay to use self-defense and when it’s not okay. They also outline when you can use deadly force. For the most part, these laws are strictly interpreted. The last thing the courts want are people acting as vigilantes. They don’t want people deciding for themselves when it’s okay to use deadly force or attack an intruder.

When is it Okay to Use Self-Defense in Arizona?

Arizona statutes define when it’s okay to use self-defense. They also tell us what counts as self-defense and what behavior crosses the line. When it comes to claiming self-defense in Arizona, the following rules apply:

  • You can only use reasonable force
  • They use the objective person standard
  • Deadly force is only allowed in limited circumstances

Basically, the court will ask what a normal person would’ve done in the same circumstances. If, for example, a person is breaking into your house in the middle of the night, it makes sense that you’d go to the front door with a baseball bat. If, however, someone wanted to punch you in a bar fight, it’s not reasonable to use a gun or knife to defend yourself.

Arizona uses a similar rule when it comes to defending third parties. You can put yourself into the shoes of the third party. Whatever force that person could have used to defense themselves is the same amount of force you can use to defend them.

When Can You Use Deadly Force?

In a perfect world, you’d never have to use deadly force to defend yourself. The courts understand, however, that we don’t live in a perfect world. In Arizona, the following rules apply to using deadly force:

  • You can use deadly force if you’re in reasonable fear or death or immediate serious bodily injury
  • You can’t use deadly force to protect personal property
  • The threat has to be immediate – a threat of future attack isn’t enough
  • Your belief must be reasonable - what would a reasonable person in your shoes think?
  • The force must be proportional – you can’t bring the proverbial gun to a knife fight
  • Once the threat disappears, so does your right to use deadly force

A few important distinctions must be made here. Once the threat disappears, you can’t use deadly force. If a person tried to break into your house and is running away, you can’t shoot them in the back.

If someone comes after you with a baseball bat, you can’t use a gun to defend yourself. The force has to be proportional.

The threat has to be immediate. If someone attacked you a week earlier, you can’t hunt the person down and use deadly force to attack him.

If you are found to have used excessive force, you will likely be charged with assault.

There Are Certain Times When Self-Defense is Never Allowed

There are times where self-defense simply isn’t justified. In Arizona, the statutes make it very clear when self-defense isn’t allowed. If your claim self-defense in these situations, you’ll likely be found guilty of assault or worse:

  • You're responding to a verbal threat
  • When you’re resisting arrest
  • If you were the original provoker
  • If you don’t need to use it
  • If there is no immediate threat

If you use claim self-defense in these situations, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle. The whole point of self-defense is to protect you from an immediate threat of attack or death. Once the threat is gone, so does the right to use self-defense.

Even an experienced criminal defense attorney can only do so much for you in these cases. If you used excessive force, the statute dictates that you’ll be liable for criminal penalties.

Does Arizona Have a Stand Your Ground Rule?

Many states have something called a “Stand Your Ground” rule. Some states call this the “castle” doctrine. This relates all the way back to when people had to defend their castles from attack. Arizona does not have a specific “Stand Your Ground” rule. However, the law does allow you to stand your ground in some circumstances.

In Arizona, if you’re lawfully where you’re allowed to be and minding your own business, you can stand your ground. You’re allowed to defend yourself without being required to retreat. So, if someone comes after you with a baseball bat, you can defend yourself. You don’t have to turn tail and run away. However, the right to defend yourself is still limited by the statute.

A lot of what constitutes as self-defense depends on using a little common sense. If someone pushes you at a baseball stadium, you’re not allowed to smash his head in with a baseball bat. You can push him back or do something reasonable to stave off the attack.

Contact a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’re been charged with assault and think you were acting in self-defense, contact a criminal defense lawyer today. Your lawyer can review your case and let you know what you may be facing in court. Your lawyer will be familiar with your local laws and regulations. They have handled dozens of cases just like yours.

If you are in a situation where your life is threatened, you’re going to act out of instinct. Just make sure your instinct is reasonable and rational. Call and schedule your initial consultation with an experienced criminal defense lawyer today.