Self-Defense Versus Assault in MarylandWe don’t typically walk around in our day-to-day lives expecting to get into a physical altercation of some sort, but the same is true for pretty much anything negative we may face. Humans aren’t known for their mind-reading abilities. But what we lack in telepathy, we make up for in resourcefulness and self-preservation, right? Someone threatens you, you defend yourself. Just like any other animal, except, well…other animals don’t have formal legal systems to abide by.

Don’t get me wrong — that legal system is very important and helps a lot of people. However, since it was created by fellow fallible humans, it, too is not able to read minds or predict every possible circumstance, and through those legal holes are innocent people behind bars for protecting themselves. In other words, you can get arrested, charged, and convicted of a crime without ever actually being guilty, and your chances of that increase tenfold when some sort of physical altercation took place. Self-defense IS a viable option in Maryland, but you’re not going to get it without a skilled Annapolis criminal defense attorney fighting for it on your behalf.

How self-defense works here in Annapolis

Every state has their own laws on self-defense and what that entails. The self-explanatory definition largely stays the same, but how far you’re able to go to defend yourself varies pretty significantly. Once you pass that invisible legal line, you’re no longer the victim and you’re facing serious charges like assault, domestic violence, or even murder. For example, you don’t even need to make physical contact to face assault charges here in Maryland (more on that later) but down in Florida, you’re able to treat intruders as target practice (not really…but kind of).

Here’s how it works in Maryland. You can claim self-defense if:

  • You weren’t the initial aggressor (yes, who “started it” finally matters!)
  • You used “reasonable force,” which means if someone tried to punch you, you didn’t respond by cutting their faces off or shooting them (and also if someone DID try to shoot you, you DID shoot back, as that would be a reasonable response)
  • You had no option to escape (if you were in public — you’re not required to leave your home), or trying to escape would have put you in more danger
  • You genuinely believed you were in serious/imminent danger of incurring severe bodily harm or losing your life, and
  • There are legitimate grounds and evidence supporting you were in that much danger

If you can prove you acted in legitimate self-defense, even if you had to take your assailant’s life (usually only if the attack was in your home), you won’t be liable for damages and, more importantly, you won’t be convicted of a serious crime which can follow you forever. However, please understand that literally all of the above has to be true for that to happen. It’s not a “pick-and-choose” scenario. If they started it but you still went “Kill Bill” on them and/or chased them for a mile while laughing and swinging a chainsaw, we’re going to have some extra work to do. Also, if you claim you believed you were in serious danger but your assailant was half your size and unarmed entirely and you still threw them like a football…yeah, we’ll have some extra work to do.

Maryland assault laws are Serious with a capital “S”

No state goes exactly easy on people accused of some form of assault, but Maryland still has especially strong consequences. Of course, “assault” isn’t just one thing. This broad umbrella term encompasses pretty much any threat of or actual intention of bodily harm one could inflict or suffer, so that means everything from bar fights to domestic violence, from threats over the internet (yes, really) to actual murder. The crimes have their own separate statutes but they also share a lot in common. For example, the LESSER consequence for assault is still 10 years in prison, hefty fines, and a lifelong mark on your public record for employers, landlords, and future loved ones to see.

Assault can also be both criminal and civil, which means you could not only face a criminal conviction, but you may be found liable for your alleged victim’s medical bills and other damages. Or, you may face one and not the other, depending on the circumstances. And here’s the real kicker I mentioned earlier: you don’t have to actually make physical contact with someone to be charged with their assault. The other person just has to feel threatened and believe you might hurt them. In cases of domestic assault, there’s a higher chance of that happening because of how the state handles those cases.

You see, the state is who pursues charges against you — not your “victim” — and they can do it without much evidence at all. If they have reason to believe you’re a threat to your family member or loved one, you can be arrested and charged. Not only that, but your “victim” just has to file a court petition and you can be removed from your home, your children, and your job.

It’s easy to see how self-defense can go so, so wrong if you’re not able to prove proper grounds, right? Maryland intends to protect as many victims as possible, but they make it too easy for anyone to be considered a victim — or an abuser. From a broad statute that essentially means any touch to the neck is felony strangulation to putting way too much legal weight on witness statements that can be biased, lacking in context, or otherwise irrelevant, too many people are left stuck in those pesky legal holes and suffering the consequences.

Common defenses your Annapolis criminal defense attorney may use

All of this is to say, as it always is, that the best way to ensure you stay out of prison and without a conviction is to hire a trusted criminal defense attorney who knows how to make these laws work in your favor instead of against it. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where simply being innocent meant you couldn’t be convicted of a crime, but we absolutely do not, and you should never assume you’re beyond the reach of the law. You’re not. No one is. No matter how innocent you are, a strong prosecution can make a damn-near ironclad case against you if you don’t have the same fighting power on your side.

See, that ironclad case is only ironclad if there isn’t someone like me to point out how much of the evidence is circumstantial, irrelevant, or otherwise inadmissible. Things that don’t necessarily prove guilt like some witness statements, convenient timing, purported motives, and evidence of opportunity can all be fought by a legal professional who has been fighting this stuff for years. Not only that, but if you did fight back in self-defense, we know how to help you prove it while also discrediting your accuser and/or any other witnesses on their side. Not self-defense? Fine — we can look for your alibi, or prove the altercation never happened, or even posit that the whole event was an accident.

Whatever the defense, the point is that we criminal defense attorneys tailor them to you and know how to make them work in a courtroom. Proving any of them is a complicated, difficult process you should never, ever try to do alone, because you will almost definitely lose. Here in Annapolis and Ellicott City at Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, I have dedicated my life to keeping innocent people like you out of prison and with your families. If you’ve been charged with any sort of assault charge, don’t hesitate to reach out today over the phone or via my contact form. Don’t wait to get started on your case; time is your money, and your freedom.

Just remember — Keep Calm, and Call Drew!