What constitutes self-defense?

A Real Trial Attorney

You may be up against severe penalties if you face violent crime charges. If you believe you acted in self-defense, how can you prove it? Can a person who provokes an attack claim self-defense?

A valid claim of self-defense to criminal charges requires proof that you were responding to unlawful conduct against yourself or, in certain cases, against another person.

What is self-defense?

If you have a reasonable belief that someone is about to do violence against you, under Wisconsin law you have the right – called a privilege – to use whatever force necessary to stop the unlawful threat against you. And, although self-defense in Wisconsin does not require that you are actually harmed before acting in self-defense, you must sincerely, reasonably believe that you (or, in certain instances, another person) may suffer unlawful harm by the person against whom you use force in defense.

If a person enters your home, your office or even your vehicle and you have a reasonable fear the intruder may harm you, you can defend yourself with whatever force is needed, including lethal force. That is known as the ‘castle doctrine’. Yet, one must realize that any decision to use lethal force will be scrutinized carefully. If that happens, you must first call 911, and then your next call should be to a seasoned criminal defense attorney.

When does violence stop being self-defense?

There are limits to self-defense. For example, you cannot provoke a person to violence in order to harm the person. In other words, if you know (or should realize) that your actions will cause someone to attack you, and this requires you to use force to defend yourself, you could end up having a jury of 12 people decide if your decision to use force was legally justified. Although some say, “it is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”, the decision to use force in self-defense will come with its own legal risks to you. You should only resort to force to repel a danger of harm under grave circumstances or, simply stated, when you have no other choice. And while there is no duty to retreat from a threat, your failure to do so can be considered by a jury if you end up accused of unlawful use of force when you thought you had the right to defend yourself.

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