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Your Right to Self-Defense

It's legal to defend yourself and your family.


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You have a legal right to use reasonable force to defend yourself from physical assaults by others, and to prevent others from stealing your property or attacking other people. Even when it turns out that you weren't in jeopardy of a physical attack against yourself, you still have the right to defend yourself if you reasonably believed you were in danger. For example, suppose you are walking to your car in a poorly lighted downtown parking lot in a less than savory part of the city. As you approach your car, you pass a group of youths hanging around another vehicle. Suddenly, you hear a loud shout directly behind you and a hand presses hard against your back. You turn around and strike your "assailant" only to discover that the person you struck had not actually attacked you, but had been pushed into you by another member of the group as a prank. Because of your reasonable belief that you were being attacked, you would not be guilty of battery for striking him. In some cases, you are even entitled to use deadly force to protect yourself and others, but only when you reasonably believe that you or the person you are coming to the defense of are in danger of being killed or seriously injured. So while it's legally permissible to shoot and kill an assailant who attacks you with a knife or some other dangerous weapon, shooting someone who merely makes a threatening gesture or throws a punch is not. Nor is using deadly force against someone who is threatening your property but not your life. You cannot, for example, shoot or stab someone who is stealing property or money from your store, or burglarizing your home. In a few states, unless you are in your own home or in some other situation where you cannot escape, your right to self-defense is further restricted. In these states, you must first make a reasonable attempt to retreat from your assailant before using deadly force to defend yourself. Finally, when it comes to defending your property, most states require that you warn the other person before using any force, unless doing so would put your personal safety in jeopardy. And while it's acceptable to use physical force to stop a burglar from leaving your home, or to capture him as he climbs out the window with your belongings, the right to defend your property doesn't permit you to enter the burglar's home and reclaim the items stolen from you. To get your property returned, you must notify the police, and rely on their assistance in getting your property back.

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