Rules of Self-Defense – justifiable or unjustifiable?

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n. (1651)

1. The use of force to protect oneself, one’s family. or one’s property from a real or threatened attack.  *  Generally, a person is justified in using a reasonable amount of force in self-defense if he or she reasonably believes that the danger of bodily harm is imminent and that force is necessary to avoid this danger. — aka defense of self.  Cf. adequate provocation under PROVOCATION. [1]

1. A right founded upon the law of nature but deemed necessary even in organized society to personal safety and security and as not incompatible with the public good.  26 Am J1st Homi § 126

The use of force by a person against another to protect himself from bodily harm or an offensive contact, which he believes will result from conduct apparently intended to cause injury or offensive contact, or which is such as to put him in apprehension thereof.  6 Am J2d Asslt & B § 158

That which the law deems justified as the defense of one’s person by such force and in such manner as is reasonably necessary when put under the necessity or apparent necessity of defending oneself without any fault on one’s part, in order to protect against the peril of death or serious bodily injury at the hands of another.  26 Am J1st Homi § 125. [2]

1. The use of force to protect oneself from death or imminent bodily harm at the hands of an aggressor.  A person may use only that amount of force reasonably necessary to protect himself against the peril with which he is threatened; thus, deadly force may be used in self-defense only against an aggressor who himself uses deadly force.
     See reasonable force. [3]

     Excerpt from Andrew Ashworth’s Principles of Criminal Law (1991):

     “The law of self-defence, as it is applied by the courts, turns on two requirements: the force must have been necessary, and it must have been reasonable. [4]

Various Types of Self-Defense:

imperfect self-defense (1882) Criminal law. A good-faith but ultimately mistaken belief, acted on by a criminal defendant, that self-defense is necessary to repel an attack.  *  In some jurisdictions, such a self defender will be charged with a lesser offense than the one committed.

perfect self-defense (1883) The use of force by one who accurately appraises the necessity and the amount of force to repel an attack.

preemptive self-defense (1969) An act of aggression by one person or country to prevent another person or country from pursuing a particular course of action that is not yet directly threatening but that, if permitted to continue, could result at some future point in an act of aggression against the preemptive actor.  *  In domestic-relations law, the phrase refers to the use of force to prevent another person from taking possibly lethal action against oneself.  It is disfavored in the law. — aka anticipatory self-defense (ASD); preventive self-defense.

Rules of Self-Defense
justifiable or unjustifiable?

retreat rule – unless at home or at work, a victim of assault generally has a duty to retreat instead of using deadly force, so long as there is a safe avenue of escape. — aka rule of retreat; duty to retreat; retreat to the wall.


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[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6 

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Andrew Ashworth, Principles of Criminal Law 114 (1991).


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