What is Lawful Use of Force in Self Defense?

Armed resident ready to use of force in self-defense to protect themselves against robber

Under Washington state law, a person can lawfully use force to defend themselves, to defend others, and to defend their property. But for the use of force to be lawful, the person claiming self-defense cannot use more force than is necessary, and they must have a reasonable fear of imminent danger.

If you have been charged with assault or domestic violence in Washington state, you may have a valid claim for self-defense. Criminal defense attorney Justin Campbell can evaluate your situation, discuss your options, and determine whether you have a valid self-defense claim.

What Is Self-Defense?

In appropriate circumstances, a person can lawfully use force to protect themselves from harm, even when their behavior would otherwise constitute a crime.

In its most basic form, self-defense is the use of a sufficient level of force or violence to counteract someone else’s use of force. But the specifics of self-defense can quickly become murky. For example, what type of threat justifies the use of force? Do you have a duty to retreat before you use force? And if you do use force, what level of force is sufficient, and what amount of violence is too much?

Imminent Threat of Harm

To be justified in using force in self-defense, the threat of harm must be imminent. Imminent means “ready to take place, near at hand, hanging over one’s head, or menacingly near.” A verbal threat can be enough to constitute an imminent threat of harm, but threatening words without a threat of physical violence are usually not sufficient to justify the use of force.

A person is no longer justified in using force in self-defense once the threat of harm has subsided. If a person felt threatened but the threat goes away, the person is no longer justified in using force in self-defense.

Reasonable Fear of Harm

A person must also have a reasonable fear of danger. If a reasonable person in the same situation would have perceived the danger as imminent, then the use of force is justified.

To determine whether a person’s fear of physical harm is reasonable, courts apply the “reasonable person” standard. The “reasonable person” is a legal tool used to determine whether an individual’s response to a situation fits within generally accepted standards of behavior. The reasonable person is a hypothetical individual who approaches and responds to a situation with a sensible amount of caution. A judge or jury will use this tool as an objective test to determine whether a person acted appropriately when faced with a particular threat.

Amount of Force

When responding to an imminent threat of harm, a person is only justified in using a reasonable amount of force. The amount of force used must be proportional to the threat. Someone threatened with deadly force would be justified in using deadly force to counteract the threat. If the threat involves a lesser amount of force, the person threatened can only respond using a proportional amount of force.

Duty to Retreat

Historically, a person had a duty to retreat before the use of force in self-defense was justified. However, Washington does not impose a duty to retreat. In Washington, a person who uses force in self-defense is justified in doing so, even if they did nothing to flee from the threat of violence.

Contact the Campbell Law Firm for Aggressive Criminal Defense

Understanding Washington self-defense laws are complicated, especially if you have been charged with a crime. But it is critical that you understand when you can defend yourself, your responsibilities if you decide to use force, and the potential legal ramifications that can arise when you use force in self-defense.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact Washington criminal defense attorney Justin Campbell as quickly as possible to schedule a confidential meeting to discuss your situation and how he can help.

During your initial meeting, attorney Campbell will ask questions to learn about the specifics of your situation and assess whether self-defense is a viable legal strategy. Regardless of whether or not a claim of self-defense applies, the Campbell Law Firm will thoroughly analyze your situation and the charges against you and prepare a vigorous legal defense.

The Campbell Law Firm handles most criminal defense cases for a reasonable flat fee, so you will know what to expect when you leave our office.

To learn more about the Campbell Law Firm, read reviews from other people we have helped, and contact us or call (360) 588-4111 today to schedule a confidential consultation to begin preparing your legal defense.

From our office in Anacortes, the Campbell Law Firm proudly serves people who have been charged with crimes throughout Skagit, Island, and San Juan Counties, including Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington, Sedro-Woolley, Friday Harbor, Oak Harbor, and Coupeville.

Categories: Criminal Defense