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Claiming Self Defense in Washington State

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Self-defense is a common but necessary act to protect ourselves and others against acts of violence. Whether you were defending yourself against an intruder in your home or you are trying to protect someone with a mental illness from harming themselves, this intervention is important.

However, if your use of self-defense leads to injury or death to the other person, you can find yourself in legal trouble. Understanding how Washington criminal courts view the lawful use of force can help you determine whether or not your case qualifies for this defense.

Washington’s Definition of Self-Defense

Under Washington state law, self-defense is lawful in certain circumstances. There are three different statutes that typically govern self-defense cases: Revised Code Section 9A.16.020 (Lawful Use of Force), Section 9A.16.030 (Excusable Homicide), and Section 9A.16.050 (Justifiable Homicide).

To claim self-defense in Washington, you will need to prove that you exercised your lawful use of force. You can use force out of necessity to defend yourself and others if your case meets one of the following criteria.

  • You are a public officer and were performing your legal duty when you exercised your lawful use of force.
  • You were a person assisting the public officer, and he or she was providing direction to you.
  • You were about to suffer an injury and you were preventing someone from committing an offense against you.
  • You were about to suffer an injury and you were preventing someone from maliciously trespassing.
  • You are a property owner and you are detaining someone who entered or stayed on your property unlawfully.
  • You were trying to prevent a person who has a mental illness, mental disability, or is mentally incompetent from doing something dangerous.

If the lawful use of force leads to the death of the aggravator, you will have to determine whether or not your case qualifies for justifiable or excusable homicide.

  • A homicide is excusable is you committed the crime by accident while acting lawfully, and there was no criminal negligence or unlawful intent present.
  • A homicide is justifiable if you committed the act while defending yourself or another person and you had reason to believe that the aggravator was about to commit a crime or cause injury. You can also claim this defense if the aggravator was committing a felony crime to you, around you, or to your home.

What Factors Are Considered in a Self-Defense Claim?

Self-defense cases can be complex and involve several factors that the judge and jury will need to take into consideration. The court will need to determine for certain whether or not you had reason to believe that you or others were in danger of being the victim of a felony or personal injury. Some of the questions that the court may consider include, but are not limited to, the following.

  • Who was the aggressor in the situation?
  • Who was responsible for starting the conflict?
  • Was your response and use of force reasonable given the situation?
  • Was there a history of domestic violence present?

How Do You Prove a Self-Defense Case in Washington?

To prove a self-defense claim, you and your Tacoma criminal defense attorney will need to work closely together to gather the evidence necessary to prove that your use of force was lawful, or the homicide was justifiable or excusable. The steps you will need to take may vary based on the circumstances of your case.

You will need to provide evidence that you had reason to believe that the aggressor was about to commit harm to you, him or herself, or someone around you and you intervened out of necessity. To prove this claim, you may need to provide security footage, witness and expert testimony, medical records, and other tangible pieces of evidence. Accomplishing this task can be difficult alone.

However, hiring a criminal defense attorney can help increase your chances of the court dropping or minimizing the charges against you. Your lawyer will be able to determine what steps you will need to take to craft a strong defense and can help you collect the evidence you need to convince the court to rule in your favor. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your self-defense claim and begin building your case.

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