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Self-defense is the right to protect one’s self, family, or one’s property from being hurt. In cases involving the use of self-defense, the defendant admits to committing acts that would constitute a crime, but asserts that he is not guilty because his actions were legally justified. The burden is on the prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense. If the prosecution is unable to show that the defendant did not act in self-defense, then the jury must return a verdict of not guilty.

In homicide cases (cases where a death occurs), Massachusetts law distinguishes between defendants that use deadly force and those that do not. The use of deadly force is justified if the defendant meets three requirements. First, the defendant must have subjectively and objectively believed that he was in imminent danger of death or serious harm. This means that the defendant must have had reason to believe that he was in danger and that he actually believed that he was in danger of serious bodily harm. Second, the defendant must have tried to avoid physical contact before using deadly force, This means that if there was a means for the defendant to escape the situation, he must have either done so or attempted to do so before exerting the deadly force. Finally, the defendant must not have used any force more than that which was reasonably necessary in the situation. In cases where the defendant used non-deadly force, the requirements for self-defense differ mainly in the first requirement. While the use of deadly force requires the defendant to both subjectively and objectively believe he was in imminent danger of death, the use of non-deadly force only requires that the defendant had a reasonable concern for his safety.

While both forms of self-defense require that the defendant fear some sort of bodily harm, whether or not the defendant’s apprehension was in fact reasonable is determined on the facts known to the defendant at the time of the incident. Hindsight is 20/20, so the jury doesn’t examine what the facts are later discovered to be, and instead look only at what information the defendant had at the time. Even when there was no actual danger, apprehension of death or bodily harm can still be reasonable in certain circumstances.

In some cases the defendant will not meet the third requirement of self-defense. In these cases the defendant uses more force than that necessary in the situation. This is often referred to as imperfect self-defense. In these cases, the defendant will be charged with manslaughter rather than murder, which carries a much lighter penalty under Massachusetts law. The actions of the victim in these cases don’t completely outweigh the conduct of the defendant, meaning the defendant is still charged with a serious crime for causing the death of the victim.

Self-Defense Criminal Attorneys at Altman & Altman, LLP

The defenses in homicide cases are extremely complex. Given that homicide charges are so serious, it is important to retain a top-notch criminal defense attorney who has a complete understanding of all of the intricacies in the law. The criminal defense practice of Altman & Altman, LLP has a team of attorneys with decades of experience dealing with homicide cases. With our former senior prosecutors, we know the law from both sides. We will work aggressively to get the best possible outcome for you.

Please Contact Us to speak with a member of our criminal defense team.  We are available to speak with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All initial consultations are free of charge. Call the criminal defense attorneys of Altman & Altman at 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 toll-free, or contact us online for a free consultation.

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