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How can defendants use self-defense for violent crime charges?

While being accused of any type of crime is a serious situation, facing a criminal charge for a violent crime does not only carry potential harsh penalties but could also damage the reputation of the defendant. For these reasons, it is important that defendants are aware of the charges against them and whether they have any defenses available to them that could reduce the charges or dismiss them altogether.

How can defendants use self-defense against violent crime charges? According to section 35.15 of the New York Penal Code, self-defense is a viable option for those accused of using physical force against another, due to threats of harm he or she reasonably believe that necessary force should be used to defend against these physical threats against himself, herself or a third person. Physical force for defense can only be used if a person reasonably believes that an aggressor is using or will imminently use unlawful physical force against them.

Self-defense will not be justified if the aggressor was provoked by the actor with the intent to cause physical injury to another. Moreover, if the actor was the initial aggressor and did not withdraw from the encounter and effectively communicate withdrawal, self-defense is not a justifiable defense.

Moreover, deadly force may not be used in self-defense unless the aggressor is using deadly force, he or she is in their dwelling and they did not initiate the aggression, reasonably believes the other person is committing or attempting to commit a kidnapping, forcible rape, forcible criminal sexual act or robbery or he or she believes the aggressor is committing or attempting to commit a burglary.

Understanding when self-defense is justifiable could help defendants facing charges for violent crimes involving physical force and deadly force. Accused should understand that they have the right to make a criminal defense against the charges they face. Those unsure of their defense options should learn more about their legal rights.

Source: New York State Law, "S 35.15 Justification; use of physical force in defense of a person," accessed May 4, 2015

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