Self-Defense in Domestic Violence Cases

Self-Defense in Domestic Violence Cases

In Defense of Self-Defense

We all have the right to defend ourselves against violence. No one would question you if you fought against an assailant in the streets. No one would hold you accountable for fighting with a burglar who attacked you in your own home. There is one scenario where the lines seem to blur between justified and uncalled for violence: domestic violence. When violence is directed toward someone you live with or are close to, every action is taken more seriously. In our society, we tend to believe those who are close to you should be the last to harm you. Unfortunately, domestic violence incidents occur at startling rates, comparatively few of which are actually prosecuted. Maybe California law has a low tolerance for domestic violence because of this belief. In reality, however, many cases of domestic violence involve self-defense. We all have a right to defend ourselves against violence directed toward us, so those who defend themselves in domestic violence scenarios should not be held accountable, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case for many.

The fact is many people are wrongfully convicted of domestic violence when they were acting in self-defense. How does this happen? In domestic violence cases where there is alleged mutual violence, there is something called the primary aggressor. This is the person who initiates the violence or otherwise contributes most to the violence. In the past, men were usually assumed to be the primary aggressor. Women are often thought of as the victim of the domestic violence incident. For a responding officer who is under pressure to arrest someone when they arrive at a domestic violence call, it may be easy to err on the side of caution and arrest the man. This puts too many men behind bars every year.

In more recent years, we have seen an increase in the number of women arrested for domestic violence. Increased awareness of mutual violence and a reduced reliance on stereotypes have led to more fair arrests.

In these cases, it is sometimes the woman who is the primary aggressor and the man who responds in self-defense. This may not be the story the woman gives law enforcement, however, and so not all men are absolved from responsibility. Likewise, women have been arrested as the suspected primary aggressor when they were really acting in self-defense. A woman may perceive a threat to her safety and react accordingly. Whether the reaction was reasonable is left up to the prosecution to decide.

In both cases, men and women have been wrongfully accused of acts of domestic violence when really they were acting in self-defense. So, what are your options if you are wrongfully accused? Mounting a defense against a domestic violence charge is difficult for men as well as women. California has dedicated prosecution units that specialize in domestic violence cases, and law enforcement is under the scrutiny of the public. This means in many cases a responding officer will need to make an arrest before leaving the scene. Making the decision of whom to arrest hastily can result in an unfair arrest of the person who was acting in self-defense. 

It is important to keep in mind that just because you acted in self-defense doesn’t mean you won’t face charges. To successfully use the self-defense claim, you must have used no more force than necessary or reasonable given the circumstances. This is often a point of much debate in domestic violence cases. What is reasonable force and how can the prosecution determine it? The district attorney may also ask: Who initiated the encounter? Who has a history of prior offenses? Who tried to prolong the encounter? And who was harmed? Claiming self-defense may get your case dropped, but it could also result in you being charged with a lesser offense. There are many factors that will figure into a domestic violence case with a self-defense claim, and this makes them hard to navigate on your own.

Prejudices, preconceived beliefs, and stereotypes have led to people being wrongfully arrested and charged with domestic violence offenses when they were acting in self-defense. We all have a right to defend ourselves against violence if we use reasonable force. Claiming self-defense in a domestic violence case is permissible, but it may be difficult to do successfully. Speak with an experienced California domestic violence defense attorney if you want to discuss your case options. An attorney can fight for your right to defend yourself in court.

Are you facing domestic violence charges? Contact attorney Christopher Martens and his team for legal help in Tulare, Fresno or Kings County. Experienced in domestic violence defense, Mr. Martens can help you strategize a defense for your case. With over ten years experience in criminal defense, Attorney Martens has taken over 50 cases to trial and will not be afraid to do the same for you. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at MartensLaw@gmail.com for a free consultation.

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