I want to preface this by saying, I am not a lawyer, and I’m not giving legal advice. I looked at reputable sources to find this information. If you want more information or you want to understand the nuances of self-defense laws, I recommend you do your own research and/or talk to an attorney. IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal and IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado believe that the best practice is to avoid danger at all times and to engage only if there is no way to safely leave the situation.
Do you understand the different types of self-defense laws? There are three main types: Stand your ground, castle doctrine, and duty to retreat.
Stand your ground laws, also known as "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" laws, say that people can defend themselves when they reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend against deadly force, great bodily harm, kidnapping, assault, or (in some jurisdictions) robbery or some other serious crimes.
Castle doctrine, also known as “castle law” or “defense of habitation law,” is a legal doctrine that designates a person's abode or any legally occupied place (e.g., a vehicle, office, or home) as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting one, in certain circumstances, to use force to defend oneself against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used.
Duty to retreat, or requirement of safe retreat, legally requires that a threatened person cannot harm another in self-defense (especially lethal force) when it is possible to instead retreat to a place of safety.
Know the self-defense laws in your state. For example, where I live in California, the law says that a person is acting in “lawful self-defense or defense of another if:
the person reasonably believes that he or she, or another person, is in imminent danger of being harmed;
the person reasonably believes that the immediate use of force is necessary to defend against that danger; and
the person uses no more force than is reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.
The reasonable fear of imminent peril must be immediate and present. Under California case law an imminent danger is one that must be instantly dealt with.”
That was a very technical explanation of California’s self-defense laws, so I’m going to break it down using an example. If an unarmed person shouts at you from across the street saying, “I’m going to punch you,” your life is not in imminent danger because that person cannot punch you from across the street. If you hit them, it would not be in self-defense. If that same person is in front of you and says they’re going to punch you but then walk away, your life is not in imminent danger. If that person says they’re going to punch you and then they step toward you in a threatening way and raise their fist, you are within your rights to protect yourself.
The next aspect of this is what reasonable force entails. If the person who threatened you said, “I’m going to punch you in the face,” you can reasonably heel palm or pepper spray them. You cannot REASONABLY shoot them. Once they are no longer a threat, meaning they are no longer physically attacking you or are actively retreating, it would not be reasonable to continue attacking them, even if you were originally acting in self-defense.
Again, I can’t stress this enough: Know the self-defense laws in your state. Laws differ state-to-state so even if your laws are similar to California’s, they may have slight differences in either wording or interpretation. If you’re having trouble interpreting the law, ask an attorney to help you decipher it. IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal had an ADA from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office come in and educate us on the law so that we understood some of the nuance behind our self-defense laws.
While we do teach physical techniques and verbal strategies, IMPACT Personal Safety, SoCal and IMPACT Personal Safety of Colorado recognize that fighting is inherently dangerous, and we recommend that people avoid dangerous situations if possible.
This is not legal advice or an official interpretation of the law. If you want an official interpretation, please talk to an attorney.