Can You Be Charged with Assault or Battery for Defending Yourself?

Assault and battery involve attempting to make or actually making offensive or harmful contact with another person. Sometimes, such acts can happen when trying to protect yourself or someone else from danger. Still, even though you were acting in defense of yourself or another, you could be charged with assault and/or battery. Self-defense can be raised as an argument against the allegations. However, certain criteria must be met for this legal approach to apply. A defense lawyer can examine your case and determine your paths forward.

To discuss your situation with one of our Los Angeles attorneys, please call Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP at (800) 462-7160 or contact us online today.

California’s Definition of Assault and Battery

In California, assault is an attempt to use force against another person and having the ability to do so. The act must have been done willfully and when the alleged actor knew that it could directly and likely lead to contact with someone. It does not matter whether contact was made between the defendant and the alleged victim. The intent to do so conveys enough evidence to prosecute.

Battery occurs when an individual willfully uses force upon another person. The contact need not result in actual pain or injury. The slightest touch might be enough to qualify as battery if it was considered offensive or harmful.

Assault and battery are each punishable by incarceration in county jail for up to six months. Assault carries a fine of up to $1,000. In contrast, the fine for battery cannot exceed $2,000.

You Can Be Charged with Assault or Battery Even If Acting in Self-Defense

Although you have a right to defend yourself, you can still be charged with assault or battery if someone accuses you of attempting to make or actually making offensive or harmful contact with them. Two sides to every story exist. Unfortunately, your accuser could argue that you provoked violence or were the aggressor when no threat of harm to you or others existed.

It is important to remember that a charge is not an automatic conviction. You could not be convicted of assault or battery if you acted in self-defense or defense of another. Still, this must be proven in court. The self-defense argument has certain legal requirements, such as proof that the intention was to protect yourself or someone else from immediate danger.

An Overview of California’s Self-Defense Law

The self-defense law provides legal protection for those accused of using or attempting to use force against another person. It can be raised as a valid defense against assault or battery charges if specific criteria are met.

For your actions to be considered self-defense, you must have:

  • Reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of bodily harm,
  • Reasonably believed that the use of immediate force was necessary to protect against the danger, and
  • Used only the amount of force a reasonable person would have believed was necessary to protect yourself or others in that situation.

The Right to Self-Defense as the Initial Aggressor

Suppose your accuser argues that you were the one who initiated the offensive contact. In that case, you still might have a defense against charges. You must show that you clearly stated, by words or actions, to your opponent that you intended to end the fight. Additionally, you must have allowed your opponent to cease their hostility.

If these criteria are fulfilled, you could legitimately use self-defense as an argument against charges.

When You Have No Right to Self-Defense

The right to self-defense is not unbridled. It does not apply if you provoked the altercation so that you could use force against another person. Additionally, you can only defend yourself if imminent danger exists. Once the harm presented by the other person is removed, or at least no longer appears to reasonably exist, you cannot use force upon that other person.

Finally, you do not have a right to self-defense if someone used offensive words against you. No matter the degree of the other person’s statement, you would not be justified in inflicting assault or battery against them.

Reach Out to an Attorney

Protecting yourself or others against potential harm is commendable. However, the person upon whom you applied force might still claim that you willfully and intentionally tried to or hurt them without lawful justification. In such an instance, you could be charged with assault or battery. By hiring a criminal defense lawyer to review your case and analyze your actions and those of the other person, you may be able to raise counterarguments, such as your acting in self-defense, to fight the charges.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we steadfastly protect the rights of our Los Angeles clients. Please schedule a consultation by contacting us at (800) 462-7160.