In California, you have the right to defend yourself as well as others as well as the “right to defend real or personal property,” but your right to use force in the protection of property is far more limited than that involving the protection of yourself or others. In fact, in most cases this defense cannot justify the use of deadly force. If you have been accused of using deadly force in an unjustified circumstance, your attorney may be able to levy the concept of imperfect self defense on your behalf, but this argument can be particularly difficult in cases involving property.
Your Right to Defend Real or Personal Property in CA
State law permits you to use “reasonable force” defend what is known as “real or personal property” from “imminent harm.” There are three important aspects of this law, all of which must be met to justify the use of violence when defending property:
- Reasonable force: When it comes to self defense, reasonable force always refers to the amount of force a reasonable person would use in the same situation. The amount of force you can use in these cases is much more limited than when defending yourself or someone else and deadly force cannot be used. This is because the amount of force used in a self defense case must be considered reasonable give the potential threat and deadly force can only be used in response to the threat of deadly force. In other words, because no one’s life is in danger when someone attempts to steal a purse, it is not justifiable to take or attempt to take someone’s life to prevent the theft, even if there is no other way to stop the theft. That being said, if the incident does put someone else’s life in danger, for example, if a purse snatcher pulls out a knife when someone attempts to stop him, deadly force can be used.
- Real or personal property: While this is an example of legal jargon that confuses people, these terms are actually simple. “Real” property refers to land or something on the land. “Personal” property, on the other hand, is something mobile like a wallet, cell phone, etc. If someone threatens your real or personal property, you have the right to defend it.
- Imminent harm: This means that there is an immediate threat and in cases involving property, this essentially means the threat of damage or theft.
It’s also worth adding that your prior relationship or knowledge of the “victim’s” past is also highly relevant to a claim of perceived threat. For example, if you work as a security guard and know a man has repeatedly attacked those who have tried to stop him from shoplifting, arguing that you were justified in using force will be much easier.
Your Right to Defend Your Home From Invaders
While the use of deadly force is largely against the law when it comes to defense of property, there is an exception when someone enters your home. This is different than other forms of property because a person is presumed to be in danger when their home is invaded. The right to protect your home is covered by a set of laws known as the Castle Doctrine that stipulate that you do no need to retreat when confronting someone in your home and you have the right to use deadly force if someone used force to break in.
Defending the Property of Others
While you can always use the concept of self-defense of others to come to the aid of someone else, this is not the case when it comes to defending the property of others. While you can legally use this defense for items temporarily under your care, for example, a vehicle you are renting, you cannot act in self defense of someone else’s property. That being said, you can use reasonable force in a citizen’s arrest if you see someone break the law by stealing or damaging the property of another person, as long as force was used as a last resort.
Can You Argue Imperfect Self Defense?
When someone kills another person while believing they were acting in self defense, but the specifics of the incident do not meet the requirements for self defense under California law, their lawyer may attempt to argue that they were acting in imperfect self defense, which can result in murder charges being reduced to manslaughter charges. This essentially means arguing that while a reasonable person might not actually believe they were in imminent danger or that they were justified in using deadly force, the defendant did actually believe so at the time of the incident.
In terms of property cases, this could mean arguing that while someone was only attempting to take your car, you truly believed that they were putting your life in danger and therefore thought it was reasonable to use deadly force to protect yourself.
If you have been charged with assault, battery or murder for protecting yourself, someone else or your property, a criminal lawyer can play a critical role in helping you fight the charges. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with Peter M. Liss.
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