Self-defense in Indiana is a powerful and unique defense strategy that can turn the tide in many criminal cases. How does it work? Self-defense has four elements, or requirements. If these requirements are met, this can mean the difference between a defendant going home to their family or spending decades in prison.

The First Element: You Must Act Without Fault

Essentially this means didn’t start the fight or create a violent situation. You can’t shove another person and then claim self-defense if the fight escalates. To prove this element, you can’t be the aggressor or provocateur of a fight.

The Second Element: You Must Be in a Place You Have the Right to Be In

The case law on this element of self-defense is straightforward. For example, if you’re trespassing and get tackled by a security guard or property owner, you can’t fight back and later claim self-defense. Why? Because you had no right to be there in the first place.

Same goes if you break into what you think is an empty house, and the owner surprises you and comes out swinging. You can’t claim self-defense if the incident occurred in a place you weren’t allowed to be in.

The Third Element: Reasonable Fear

To have a good claim to self-defense, a person must have had reasonable fear of bodily injury at the time. There are two sub-components of this element: objectively reasonable fear and subjectively reasonable fear.

Objectively reasonable: Would a reasonable person in your shoes have feared bodily harm at the time?

  • Good example: You tackle someone swinging a crowbar at you.
  • Bad example: You tackle a clown because you’re afraid of clowns.

Subjectively reasonable: Were you in actual and reasonable fear of bodily harm at the time?

  • Good example: You have a small frame and you and tackle a 6’4’’ 300-pound man who is winding up for a punch.
  • Bad example: You are a 6’4’’ 300-pound karate black belt and you drop kick a teenager for slapping you.

As you can see, reasonable fear is very fact-sensitive. It depends greatly on the situation and the person claiming self-defense.

The “Hidden” Fourth Element: No Going Overboard

This element is unofficial, and it’s evolved through case law in the past few years. If someone breaks into your house, and you shoot them in fear for your life, the law protects you. If you then grab your machete and start cutting the burglar into pieces, the law will not protect you.

Self-defense must be proportional to the perceived threat. A burglar that you’ve already shot? Probably not a threat. Someone fleeing from a fight? Probably not a threat. As a rule of thumb, if you’re hitting someone in the back, self-defense is going to be tough for you to prove.

Tying It All Together

A good attorney knows how these elements overlap and how to prove them. When it’s carried out correctly, it can be an extremely powerful defense strategy. It’s almost like a math formula:

a non-aggressor   +   in a place they’re allowed to be   +   reasonable fear   +   reasonable force

= a solid self-defense case

This formula also works if you’re defending someone else! If the first three of these elements are present, you can step in to defend another person with reasonable force, confident that the law is in on your side.

Make the Right Call

If you have any questions about self-defense, give us a call at 317-632-3642 and remember—always plead the 5th!