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Defense of Other People

A defendant charged with an assault crime may assert a defense that he reasonably believed his actions were necessary to defend a third person against an apparent threat of unlawful and immediate violence from another person.

For example, if defendant reasonably believes that his friend is about to be stabbed by an assailant, the defendant may use force against that assailant in order to defend the defendant's friend. 

Per California law, a defendant may defend third persons from an assault crime if all of the following circumstances are present:

  • The defendant reasonably believed that someone else was in imminent danger of suffering bodily injury from an assailant, and

  • The defendant reasonably believed that immediate use of force was necessary to defend against an imminent danger, and

  • The defendant used no more force than was necessary to defend against that danger

Reasonable Belief Required: All the circumstances as they were known to the defendant at the time he acted to defend another person are considered when determining whether the defendant's beliefs were reasonable. This means that if another person in a similar situation with similar knowledge of all the pertinent facts would have acted in the same way that the defendant did, then the defendant was privileged to defend that other person against an assailant.


True Danger Not Required: If the defendant's beliefs were reasonable when he defended another person, then the perceived danger does not need to have actually existed. In fact, the defendant's belief that someone else was in imminent danger of harm from a third person may be reasonable even if he or she relied on information that was not true, so long as the defendant did not know that the information was not true.

Imminent Harm Required: Belief in future harm to another person is not sufficient to be privileged to use force against a prospective assailant no matter how great or how likely the harm is reasonably believed by the defendant.; the defendant must have believed the danger of violence or injury to another person was imminent. What constitutes imminent depends on the circumstances as they existed when the defendant used force in defense of another person.

Excessive Force Not Privileged: The defendant is not privileged to use excessive force to defend another person. Whether or not the defendant used excessive force in defense of another person is decided on a case by case basis. In short, the defendant may not use more force than is necessary to defend another person under the circumstances.

Stand Your Ground Law: A defendant in California is entitled to stand his ground and defend another person. This means that the defendant does not have to flee from the threat of harm or injury to himself when he is defending another person. This true even if the defendant can safely retreat under the circumstances


Note: The defendant is entitled to pursue an assailant until the danger to a third person has passed, so long as the defendant reasonably believes that it is necessary to chase the assailant in defense of another person.

Defense of Family Member: When a defendant uses deadly force to defend a third person, and the force used by the defendant actually caused death, the defendant may be entitled to an acquittal of murder or manslaughter charges if the defendant was defending a member of his family or household at the time that he or she used deadly force against an assailant.

Defending with Deadly Force: In order to use the defense of others in homicide cases, the defendant must reasonably believe that someone else was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury. The defendant must also reasonably believe that the immediate use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger. Finally, the defendant must use no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

Imperfect Defense of Others: If the defendant kills a person in defense of a third person, and at the time of the killing the defendant genuinely but unreasonably believed that the other person needed defense with deadly force, the defendant may be entitled to a reduction of murder charges to manslaughter. This is known as imperfect defense of others. Of course, if the defendant did not have a genuine belief that a third person needed defense via deadly force, and the defendant kills another person in the name of defending another person, then the defendant is not entitled to the defense of others and murder charges are proper.

To learn more about the defense of others and imperfect defense of others, contact our criminal defense attorneys at your convenience. Our attorneys are available every day  to answer your criminal defense and criminal procedure questions. Our initial consultations are provided at no cost to the accused. Call today!


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