Can You go to Jail for Self-Defense?


Every person has a fundamental right to defend themselves. However, many people use the term “self-defense” to justify unwarranted aggression, which can make them subject to criminal punishments. This means you could end up serving time in jail or prison for harming another person, even if you were merely defending yourself. The penalties for these criminal charges depend largely on the violent acts in question. The experienced self-defense lawyers at Berry Law can help you fight your criminal charges stemming from defending yourself.

You have a right to defend yourself against aggression (and threats of aggression) from another person, especially if you have reason to believe you are in immediate danger of being harmed through the fulfillment of these threats. For example, if someone is running toward you with a knife, pointing a gun at you, or otherwise giving you reason to believe they intend to harm you, you may be justified in using proportionate force to contain the threat, deter your aggressor, and preserve your own wellbeing. The situation you are in plays a large role in determining whether or not an aggressive act is self-defense.

When You Have the Right to Self-Defense:

Immediate Danger

If you believe the threat is imminent, whether it be a verbal or physical threat, your right to self-defense is protected. If verbal threats are accompanied by physical threats, then the defense is justified. Once the threat has ended, then the right to self-defense ends as well.

Reasonable Fear

If someone deemed reasonable would act in the same way the victim did in the situation, then the use of self-defense is acceptable. This means that if any other person would have acted the same way, even if the defendant is believed to have assaulted the victim, then the use of force is considered self-defense. Determining what is reasonable depends on the specific situation and the circumstances surrounding the self-defense in question. It is important to understand that a legal professional with experience defending individuals using self can help prove that your actions were reasonable given the situation and circumstances you were facing.

Equivalent Response

The self-defense in question must match the level of threat the person faced. This means that the person can only use as much force necessary to stop the threat. If the self-defense causes more harm than the threat would have caused, then the defense is not justified.

Duty to Retreat and Stand Your Ground

Certain states require you to try and flee the perceived threat before using force to defend yourself, Nebraska included. This is known as the “Duty to Retreat.” In court, you must show that you attempted to flee the situation prior to defending yourself. Even if you failed to flee, an attempt to flee is considered reasonable in these situations. This can sometimes be difficult to prove, especially without sound legal representation. However, some states do not believe in the “Duty to Retreat,” and instead have the “Stand Your Ground” law. The “Stand Your Ground” law, which is practiced in many states in the US, is basically the opposite of the “Duty to Retreat.” This law allows you to claim self-defense even if you did not try to flee the situation. Understanding the difference that these two laws have on your case may seem easy, but there is often confusion. A self-defense lawyer may be able to help prove that your self-defense was warranted.

In Your Home

If a person unlawfully enters your home or place of work, you have the right to use deadly forces in most states, including Nebraska. This is considered the “Castle Doctrine”. The doctrine allows you to defend yourself when in your home with lethal forces if necessary. According to Nebraska Revised Statute 28-1409:

The actor shall not be obliged to retreat from his dwelling or place of work, unless he was the initial aggressor or is assailed in his place of work by another person whose place of work the actor knows it to be.

Therefore, in Nebraska, there is no duty to retreat when an individual is in their home or place of work.

“Imperfect Self-Defense”

If a person uses self-defense because of fear of imminent danger that is considered unreasonable, it is considered “imperfect self-defense.” A person will still be accused of violent crimes if it is considered this form of self-defense, but the charges and penalties may be lessened.

When Acts of Self-Defense Become Criminal Aggression

On the other hand, you may not be able to justify unwarranted aggression or violent, disproportionate retaliation in the name of self-defense. You could serve time in jail if a judge determines that your reaction to a perceived threat or act of aggression is disproportionate and goes beyond the provisions of the laws in the state that charges were filed.

The court may regard you as a violent criminal if you become an aggressor by responding unreasonably or exercising deadly force unnecessarily. If this occurs, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the severity of the damage you cause. If convicted, you may be facing severe punishments.

Criminal Defense Attorneys Serving Clients in Nebraska

At Berry Law, we know the difference between self-defense and aggression. We bring decades of experience to the table and have the skill and insight necessary to help you craft a strong defense. Securing legal representation promptly after being involved in a violent encounter is key to keeping your criminal case from escalating and resulting in unjust accusations and penalties. If you are facing criminal charges stemming from self-defense, we may be able to provide you with the representation you need. Call today to learn more

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