To Defend or Not to Defend?

Knowing and understanding your rights just might save your life, or even the lives of others. When enacting Indiana Code 35-41-3-2, the Hoosier State’s General Assembly reaffirmed the long-standing principle that “people have the right to defend themselves and third parties from physical harm and crime.” The assembly, however, has taken care to formally articulate the boundaries of lawful self-defense. Cases of this sort tend to turn on the so-called reasonable belief of the person asserting self-defense. Indiana’s self-defense statute reads, in relevant part:  

(c) A person is justified in using reasonable force against another person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person:

(1) is justified in using deadly force; and

(2) does not have a duty to retreat;

if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary (emphasis added).

There’s no typical self-defense case. When an especially strong self-defense claim is asserted, sometimes the State can be persuaded to dismiss the charges. Other times, the case ends up going to trial. Just because you’ve asserted that you acted in self-defense, this doesn’t mean your troubles are over. Your attorney will still need to show that when the incident in question occurred: 1) you were in a place where you had the right to be; 2) you acted without fault; and 3) you had a reasonable fear of death, serious bodily harm or the imminent use of unlawful force.

At trial, a self-defense claim is usually presented through eyewitness testimony. If you (the defendant) decide you want to testify on your own behalf, you’ll be subject to cross-examination by the State. If you and your attorney are able to establish the three elements of self-defense, the burden will shift to the Prosecution, compelling them to disprove one of these self-defense elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

Self-defense has both subjective and objective elements. You’re justified in using force only if you reasonably believe it to be necessary. This requires you to consider not just your perception of events, but also your meta-perception of how reasonable your actions are likely to appear to others. Not only must you sincerely believe that self-defense was necessary, you must also show that your sincere belief was reasonable under the circumstances. Every trial strategy is a gamble, no matter how candid or forthright you’re being in your account. This is because your belief only accounts for the subjective half of the equation—the remaining objective element is determined by either the judge or the jury, depending on your type of trial.

The phrase ‘reasonably believes,’ as used in the Indiana self- defense statute, requires both subjective belief that force was necessary to prevent serious bodily injury, and that such actual belief was one that a reasonable person would have under the circumstances. Littler v. State, 871 N.E.2d 276 (2007)

If you or a loved one are dealing with a criminal charge to which self-defense is a viable response, call the Marc Lopez Law Firm at 317-632-3642, or send us an email.