When Can You Legally Claim Self Defense In California?

California Self Defense Laws

by May 20, 2021

Having to defend yourself or a loved one from danger is one of the most terrifying situations you’ll likely ever face. Self defense is a complicated topic, but California self defense laws do a reasonably good job of defining what constitutes legal self defense, and when it’s acceptable to use against others.

When Is Self Defense Legal?

In California, you are allowed to use reasonable self defense in order to protect yourself or others from injury or death. From a legal standpoint, “reasonable” means your act of self defense must meet the following three criteria:

  1. You reasonably believed that you were in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily injury, being killed or being unlawfully touched.

  3. It was reasonable for you to believe that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that imminent danger.

  5. You used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that imminent danger.

Because almost every case of self defense is unique, it will be up to a judge and/or jury to decide if the specific circumstances of your actions were justified. However, a closer look at each of the above criteria may help further clarify what types of actions and situations self defense will be legally acceptable.

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1) Imminent Danger Of Harm

This first criteria means that in order to use self defense, you must believe at the time that you are facing immediate danger from a person or persons. A reasonable person looking at your actions needs to conclude that your attacker or attackers were currently in the process of unlawfully touching you, causing injury, or trying to kill you.

California self defense laws also state that you can not claim legal self defense if you retaliate against someone threatening future harm. For example, you cannot shoot someone who comes to your door and tells you they’re going to come back and kill you the following week.

2) Necessary Use Of Force

For this criteria to be met, it means that using force was the only option for defending yourself in the situation.

If someone pins you to the ground and starts to punch you repeatedly, a reasonable person would believe the only the way to protect yourself is to use force of some kind. On the other hand, if someone starts throwing rocks at you from across a parking lot and you run towards them and stab them, that may not be viewed as a necessary use of force to defend yourself.

3) Necessary Amount Of Force

You are legally allowed to use only the amount of force that is necessary to protect yourself or someone else from imminent danger.

If you get in a argument in a bar and the person you’re arguing with pushes you, pulling out a gun and shooting them would be an excessive amount of force and would most likely not be considered legal self defense.

However, if you get in an argument in a bar and the person you’re arguing with follows you out to your car and pulls out a knife, then a reasonable person would probably believe that using a knife or gun to defend yourself was necessary.

Calling A Self Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been involved in an incident in which you believed legal self defense was necessary, you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to evaluate your case.

At Quinnan law, we have extensive experience working with those who have been charged with illegal use of self defense. We’ll listen to your side of the story and help determine the facts of the case to defend you and make sure your side of the story is presented fairly and accurately.


At Quinnan Law, we offer every client a free phone consultation to discuss their unique situation and determine how we can help. To arrange a consultation, please fill out the adjacent form or call us at: (707) 540-2356.

We provide representation in California State and Federal Courts. We accept most major credit cards for your convenience.

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