When Does Self Defense Turn into Assault
The law has long recognized that if you’re in a fight, you can use reasonable force in self-defense, but how far does that concept stretch?
In this article, I’ll discuss what the law says about self-defense, how far the concept goes when relying on self-defense, and when it can turn into assault.
What is Self-Defense?
Self-defense is the lawful use of force to defend yourself, defend someone else, defend property, or prevent a crime. But only if the force used is reasonable in the circumstances.
How far do self-defense and reasonable force go? Self-defense, if accepted by the court, is a complete defense. In other words, it’s a complete defense of your action, but only if accepted in those circumstances.
What is Assault?
On the other hand, assault is any act of physical violence or coercive physical contact. An attempt or threat to commit bodily harm or even a verbal threat falls under assault. Assault is usually categorized as a crime and carries a criminal/civil liability.
Generally, the line between assault and self-defense is usually thin, but if you know what to look out for, you can easily differentiate between the two.
And the other good thing is if you’re prosecuted for assault charges, you don’t have to prove that it was in self-defense; you only have to raise it as self-defense.
There’s a test on whether the force used was reasonable. So, by extension, the burden is usually on the prosecution to disprove that using force was reasonable in those circumstances.
When Does Self-Defense Turn into Assault?
Generally, self-defense turns into assault when more force is used than is necessary to stop an assault. Self-defense turns into assault when you no longer need violence to defend yourself.
The cut-off point between self-defense and assault is when you no longer need to take action to protect yourself from physical threats, but instead, start harming the assailant. Once the table turns and your attacker retreats, you cannot pursue them. You now become an aggressor.
Differentiating Self-Defense and Assault (Self-Defense VS Assault)
There are two parts to differentiating self-defense and assault; the reasonable force bit and the circumstances under which you believe them to be.
Generally, the goal of self-defense is not to get hurt or to ensure someone you’re responsible for isn’t hurt. It’s different from the offense, where the goal is to hurt someone. Offense can turn into assault, and it’s illegal.
Once someone tries hurting you, you can do things not to get hurt. Options include running away, acting tough or scary, pushing someone away, or hurting them so they stop hurting you.
If someone hurts or tries to hurt you, you can hurt them so they stop hurting you. The law allows you to hurt them until they’re no longer a threat. But once the risk is gone, the danger passes, or there’s no longer threat to harm, your right of self-defense ends. Continual hurting or harming the assaulter translates to assault, regardless of past events.
Once the assailant stops trying to hurt you, the law doesn’t allow you to hurt them. It means you’re safe, and if you keep on hurting them, you’re no longer doing it not to be hurt. You’re hurting them just to hurt them, and this becomes an offense, and it’s illegal.
Here’re some real-life examples:
If a mugger runs off and you chase him, pin him to the ground and repeatedly kick him on the head, you’ll have committed an offense. Your action wasn’t a response to an immediate threat but rather revenge.
If someone road rages on you, hitting you with a baseball bat and smashing your window, you can pull a gun on them. However, if they drop their weapon and put their hands up, you can’t shoot them.
Executing a disabled assailant is classified as murder, not self-defense. Firing at a fleeing assailant is also assault. Firing at a trespasser is also assault unless they point a weapon at you.
To summarize, self-defense becomes assault once you’re no longer threatened but keep hurting the assailant.
The second element to remember when differentiating between the two is the force used. According to the law, the force used to defend yourself should be proportional to your danger.
Therefore, when you need to hurt someone else to stop hurting you, you must only hurt them enough to stop them from hurting you. Ideally, only hurt them as much as they tried to hurt you.
If you’re also in a position to escape a situation, using any type of force could be seen as “unreasonable.” But if you’re with someone who can’t escape themselves for whatever reason, you can use “reasonable” force for protection.
For example, if a kid demands that you give up your wallet and that they’ll kick you in the shin, and you give them a fatal piledriver, that’s assault. Also, if someone of similar size punches you because you insulted his girlfriend, you can’t pull a knife on him. It would be considered assault.
However, shooting someone who is trying to knife-stab and lunge at you is clearly self-defense. Also, if someone tries shooting, you can shoot them first so they can’t kill you. Are five-armed people chasing you? Pulling a knife seems reasonable.
Therefore, self-defense should be met with a reasonable and proportionate counterforce. Depending on the situation, you can only use as much force as justifiable to stop the attack.
To understand more about the appropriate force required to stop a threat, we need to understand the different levels of assault and the threat they carry.
Types of Assaults
1) Verbal assault
Verbal assault is one of the most common assaults. As its name suggests, the nature of this threat is usually verbal, and physical assault may or not be part of it.
Some people argue that the absence of physical assault doesn’t qualify it as an assault, but remember, verbal assault can result in emotional damage.
You could use several self-defense techniques to address verbal assault, including calling out abusive behavior, remaining silent, or enforcing boundaries.
2) Simple assault
A simple assault, also known as a normal assault also, may or may not involve weapons. Physical assault, such as a person shoving you, may or may not be part of simple assault.
3) Sexual assault
Sexual advances that don’t involve desire or consent are a form of assault. It’s usually a traumatic experience and puts the victim through emotional and physical pain.
4) Aggravated assault
Assault with a deadly weapon with the intent of causing grievous bodily harm or attempted murder is the highest order of assault.
The assaulter intends to cause serious bodily harm or kill the victim. In such as case, the law allows you to use the maximum force, including elimination, as a form of self-defense.
These are the four main categories of assault, and each category requires a different use of justifiable force. For example, if someone is verbally assaulting you, it’s unreasonable to draw a knife or pull a trigger on them.
However, if an assaulter intends to cause grievous bodily harm, such as kicking you with a bat on the head, you can draw a firearm on them.
In short, the action has to have evidence to support that it’s what a reasonable person would have done when weighed in an unbiased mind. Self-defense will turn into assault if you can no longer justify that your actions were what a reasonable person would have done in such circumstances.
What Does the Law Say About Self-Defense and Assault?
The laws are different in different jurisdictions. In most situations, however, you’re in for an assault charge if you exceed the force applied or threatened against you.
But there’re exceptions.
For example, in some states, such as Massachusetts, there’s a “duty to retreat.” It means that if you’re faced with a threat, you must run away until you can’t. While the law allows you to use deadly force against deadly force, but only in defense of human life and not property.
Meanwhile, states like Texas have “Stand your Ground” laws, meaning you’re not legally required to flee when attacked. In fact, you can use deadly force against a simple trespass in Texas.
This is not everything you need to know about self-defense and assault. In most states, assault comes from exceeding the force or threat against you. The nature of the assault also determines the amount of reciprocating force you’re allowed to use.
Self-defense is a legal concept that allows a person to use force to defend themselves or others from harm. In general, the use of force is considered justifiable when it is necessary to protect oneself from an imminent threat of harm, and the amount of force used is proportionate to the level of threat. However, the line between self-defense and assault can be blurry and depends on the specific circumstances of each case.
In some cases, the use of force may be considered excessive or disproportionate to the threat faced, which can turn self-defense into assault. For example, if someone uses force to protect themselves but continues to attack their assailant after the threat has subsided, this may be considered excessive force. Similarly, if someone uses deadly force against someone who is only using non-deadly force, this may also be considered excessive force.
Another situation where self-defense can turn into assault is if someone initiates an attack or escalates a situation to the point where force becomes necessary for self-defense. For example, if someone starts a fight with another person and then claims self-defense when they use force to defend themselves, they may not be able to claim self-defense as a legal justification for their actions.
Ultimately, whether self-defense turns into assault is a question that must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each case. The court will consider various factors, including the nature of the threat faced, the level of force used, and whether the force used was necessary and proportionate to the threat.
But at the end of the day, you must understand the specific laws in your domicile regarding self-defense and assault because they vary wildly.
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