Violent criminal charges risk some of the most serious penalties possible under New York law and also result in significant social stigma. One of the more common ways for people who have been accused of an act of violence to defend against the allegations they face is to raise a claim that they acted in self-defense. Some people even believe that self-defense claims are an easy way to resolve legal challenges.
However, the truth is that self-defense claims are actually incredibly complex. The person responding to criminal charges by asserting that they acted to defend themselves or others must reasonably believe that physical force was necessary to protect themselves against the other party. They may also have had a duty to retreat before using force.
Applying self-defense law is largely subjective and depends on the interpretation of the courts, as well as the way that a defense attorney presents the evidence supporting the claim of self-defense. What do defense attorneys generally need to establish to prove that a client acted in self-defense in New York?
The defendant cannot have been the instigator
One of the most important limitations on self-defense claims in New York is that the party asserting that they acted to protect themselves, other people or their property from imminent criminal activity cannot be the person who instigated the situation. If one person provokes, threatens or intimidates another and then that person retaliates physically, the person who initiated the confrontation cannot claim they act in self-defense if they become physically violent. If the parties agree to a fight that gets out of hand, neither will generally be able to claim they acted in self-defense. Those engaged in criminal activity at the time of an altercation typically also cannot claim self-defense.
The defendant must have been reasonable in their judgment and actions
There are limitations to self-defense claims based on how reasonable the actions of the defendant seem to others. Those who escalate a situation by becoming intensely violent over what was previously just a verbal altercation may have felt intimidated but may have a hard time convincing others that their use of force was necessary and reasonable. Generally, someone’s sense of fear that they are in imminent danger must be reasonable to others for a self-defense claim to be possible, and the degree of force that they use to protect themselves must also be appropriate or reasonable given the circumstances.
Given that there is so much nuance involved in self-defense claims, the average individual will have a hard time putting together an effective defense strategy without the support of a legal professional. Consulting with a defense lawyer is often important for those accused of physical violence in New York who are hoping to respond to their charges with a claim of self-defense.