Can I Invoke Self Defense in a Murder Case?

Murder is the most serious type of charge anyone could face. In this situation, you feel helpless, especially if you had no intention to take someone’s life, but only to defend yourself. Actually, many people charged with murder ask their Anderson criminal defense lawyer: can I invoke self defense in a murder case?

The answer is yes, in specific circumstances. Here is what you need to know on this topic.

The Elements of Self Defense You Must Prove in South Carolina Courts

The State vs. Davis case tried before the Supreme Court of South Carolina set the standards for proving self defense in a murder case. The court determined that a defendant must prove the following four elements:

  1. you did not instigate or attack another person and then claim self defense
  2. you were or believed that you were in imminent danger of losing your life or suffering serious bodily harm
  3. this belief of imminent danger must be objectively reasonable – any other prudent and reasonable person would have believed that they were in imminent danger in the same situation
  4. you had no other probable means of avoiding the danger – before South Carolina passed the stand your ground law, you had to retreat, unless you were in your home

As we will explain below, if the attack leading to another person’s death happened in your home, your attorney will invoke the stand your ground law instead of self defense.

South Carolina Stand Your Ground Law – What Does It Stipulate?

South Carolina legislators passed the Protection of Persons and Property Act, the so-called stand your ground law. As the text of the law explains, it is the codification of the Castle Doctrine common law, stating that every person has the right to protect themselves, their families and others from intruders and attackers.

Before this law was passed, you had the obligation to retreat from an attacker in order to prove self defense, in any circumstance – including at home. Now, this obligation disappears, because you have a legal right to be there. Thus, you may stand your ground in your home and use deadly force if you are faced with an imminent threat.

Who Has the Burden of Proof after You Invoke Self Defense?

If you invoke self defense, the prosecution has the burden of disproving at least one of the four elements discussed above. The standard of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt.

everyone has the right to defend their life using any means

However, your Anderson criminal defense attorney will also look for any piece of evidence that will prove your assertion. Such evidence may be:

  • CCTV camera footage showing the attack
  • Eyewitness statements
  • The existence of prior restraining orders against the attacker who lost their life in the confrontation
  • Expert witnesses testifying about likely outcomes of specific behaviors and actions
  • Forensic medical reports, indicating the type and likely cause of the deceased person’s injuries

Exceptions to the Right to Invoke Self Defense

There are situations when the court will not accept your self defense plea. These situations appear when the prosecution can prove that:

  • The attacker was a resident, owner or had a legal to be in the location
  • The attacker had legal guardianship or custody of minor children or grandchildren and sought to remove them
  • You were committing a crime or using the location where the attack happened to commit a crime
  • The attacker was a law enforcement officer who identified themselves and was performing official duties
  • You should have reasonably assumed the attacker was a law enforcement officer

Defense of Others – a Similar Potential Defense to Murder Charges

Beside self defense, you may also invoke defense of others. If you see that someone else is being attacked, you have the right to defend that person in the same manner in which they have the right to defend yourself.

In this situation, the initial victim’s testimony will be extremely helpful to your case. However, your attorney will have to understand the circumstances under which you acted. If you misunderstood the situation and the person you tried to defend was not acting lawfully, the court may reject the defense of others’ plea.

Let a Skilled Anderson Criminal Defense Lawyer Protect Your Rights!

Being charged with murder is the most serious criminal offense possible, which may deprive you of freedom for decades if you are convicted. Even if you acted in self defense, you will need an experienced Anderson criminal defense lawyer to convince the jury of this.

Your entire life depends on the verdict in your trial – so contact Boatwright Legal as soon as possible after being charged. We offer each new client a free case review, so call us at: 864-263-1679!

Read More Related Articles