Despite being one of the most well-recognized topics in criminal law, self-defence is a highly complex issue that means much more than just ‘fighting back’. This is especially true if an act of self-defence happens to cause heavy physical damage or the death of the original aggressor. In fact, incorrectly assuming you acted in self-defence can result in severe repercussions if it was found to be unjustified, including lifelong imprisonment. To help the Canadian public understand the basics of self-defence, What The Law is going to explain the circumstances where a person can and cannot claim self-defence in order to demonstrate their innocence against a criminal charge.
While self-defence implies that you were acting to defend yourself, it can also mean you acted to prevent damage or harm from coming to your property or to other people.
If you have ‘peaceful possession’ of your property (e.g. you are the homeowner) you may be justified in using reasonable force to protect it from intruders or those that seek to harm you or other inhabitants. This applies to using ‘appropriate force’ to remove trespassers from your property. However, the safest decision in these scenarios is typically to remove yourself from the trespassers’ or aggressors’ reach and to contact emergency services as soon as possible.
You can act in self-defence if you are protecting yourself from harm or threat. This means pushing, hitting or attempting to disarm someone with some force may be considered justifiable.
Context does matter, however. Acts of self-defence will always be looked in the wider context of the scenario, with aspects such as your relationship with the attacker and their own criminal history and personality being taken into account. If you are charged with a criminal offence which you feel was an act of self-defence, your criminal defence lawyer will seek to find evidence that demonstrates this context.
Self-defence does not always have to be in response to a physical attack. If someone has shown quite obvious signs of intending to threaten you (e.g. signaling a weapon at you and telling them they will attack or kill you while they show aggressive body language). You may feel obliged to defend yourself if the threat feels and looks very likely and potentially very dangerous.
Although self-defence technically applies to the individual involved, it can also be used to protect those around you from considerable harm or threat. For example, attempting to stop an attacker from harming your child or family member would be a reasonable action if it was difficult to remove the child from their path.
While some may wrongly assume self-defence means you can apply the same amount of force directed at you, what you may know as ‘an eye for an eye’, all instances of self-defence must be reasonable. This means the individual acting in self-defence should try to minimize the harm they do as they protect themselves, their property, or other individuals in danger. This is because self-defence is about immediate prevention. Some cases that might be seen as self-defence would be pushing back against someone attacking you to get away or using an object to shield yourself from punches.
You might also try to detain someone while you wait for police or law enforcement officers to arrive, known as a citizen’s arrest. It is important to remember however that the most important thing is your safety and attempting to safely detain someone without any law enforcement training can carry significant risks if performed incorrectly.
Although there are many cases where a person would rightfully act through self-defence, there are also many where people do not and as a consequence have unknowingly committed a criminal offence.
As previously mentioned, self-defence is justified when a person acted reasonably in their defence. During any criminal investigation involving a person’s act of self-defence that has caused the possible injuries or death of their aggressor, it is determined whether or not an individual responded in the right way to a perceived threat.
An example of acting unreasonably and wrongfully labelling it self-defence would be attacking someone who chases a fleeing attacker and assaults them as a retaliation. People should not try to take law enforcement into their hands this way, as they risk doing the same illegal act as their aggressor.
Trying to justify or demonstrate an act of self-defence is often very difficult, especially if you have limited proof or are attempting to defend a serious criminal offence on your own. If found guilty, you may be sentenced to a long jail time and must live with the consequences of a criminal record. For this reason, it is absolutely vital that you have the legal counsel and support of a criminal defence lawyer who can fight for your innocence and defend your case.
At What The Law, we always put our clients first. With flat fees and 24/7 availability, you can rely on us to work tirelessly to ensure you get the justice you deserve. Contact us today and tell us what happened - we are ready to listen to you.