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Understanding assault charges and claims of self-defense

As kids, many of us had at least one experience involving a physical altercation. Such altercations are often treated as inevitable rites of passage in popular culture. For example, acting in self-defense against a school bully is essentially treated as a matter of course in American coming of age stories. As we get older, however, fighting is generally perceived differently by others. And in practical terms, physical altercations between adults are often considered to be criminal in nature.

Assault is a term that covers a wide range of offenses. Each state may define assault differently (and there are technically differences between assault and battery), but most people nonetheless understand the concept. That being said, assault charges are not always straightforward. The types of charges you might face as a defendant are dependent on a variety of factors, including mitigating circumstances and whether a weapon was involved.

What it takes to demonstrate self-defense

You may think you can't be charged with assault if you didn't throw the first punch, but this is not necessarily the case. Claiming self-defense or defense of others is a common legal strategy. But for this strategy to work, you must be able to demonstrate that you acted within a prescribed set of guidelines.

First, you generally must show that you were presented with a threat of harm that most people would also perceive as a threat. And you must show that because of this threat, you reasonably feared for your own safety (or the safety of those you were trying to protect).

Next, you may need to demonstrate that you could not see any alternative to fighting. In other words, escape and retreat were simply not possible.

Finally, you might need to demonstrate that you did not engage in provocation and that the force you used in self-defense was necessary and proportional to the threat you faced. As an example, you could not justify shooting someone by citing a fear of being punched in the face.

As you can see, assault is often a more complicated and nuanced offense than you might expect. Because of this nuance and complexity, you may greatly benefit from the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with assault.

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