What Role Does “Reasonable Force” Play in an Assault Charge?What Role Does “Reasonable Force” Play in an Assault Charge?Getting into a fight is not a rare occurrence. Whether you’re out at a bar and someone thinks you’re hitting on their partner, or someone with anger issues threatens you in an instance of road rage, there are instances where you have to choose whether or not you have to defend yourself with force. So what happens when you end up severely hurting or even killing the attacker? Did you mean to do it? Or were you just defending yourself and something went wrong? Maryland says you should try to get away from your attacker if you can, but when you have to defend yourself, can you get in trouble with the law? It all comes to “reasonable force” and whether or not you acted appropriately in the situation. An attorney is an invaluable asset when you are in such a situation, as they can help prove that you acted reasonably and in defense of your safety.

What counts as reasonable force?

Reasonable force refers to the level of force required to protect yourself or your property. This concept can serve as a legal defense in both criminal trials and lawsuits involving allegations of wrongful conduct. So, let’s say you’re charged with something like assault or even murder. You might be able to avoid being in hot water if you can prove you only used the right amount of force to defend yourself against someone who was coming after you; however, the force you use has to match the threat, and you can’t try to kill or seriously hurt the other person.

Several factors can come into play to figure out if the force you used was reasonable. Such things as the height and strength of the other person, whether they had any weapons, if there were any witnesses around, and where the incident occurred. For instance, a jealous ex starts yelling threats like “I’m gonna kill you,” and then tries to do just that, you’d be absolutely justified in defending yourself using reasonable force.

Maryland’s “duty to retreat” and other self defense laws

Every state has their own laws when it comes to self-defense and what a person can do to defend themselves without breaking any laws themselves.

The three main self-defense laws in the US include:

  • Duty To Retreat
    • The Duty To Retreat is a self-defense concept that requires individuals to make reasonable efforts to avoid or escape a dangerous situation before resorting to force, especially deadly force. In other words, if you have a safe way to get out of a confrontation without using force, you are legally obligated to do so. Maryland follows this doctrine.
      • This principle applies in jurisdictions that do not have Stand Your Ground laws or where self-defense laws emphasize avoiding confrontation.
      • It typically requires individuals to consider retreat as the first option when faced with a threat before resorting to force.
    • The Duty To Retreat is often associated with using force as a last resort to protect oneself.
  • Stand Your Ground
    • Stand Your Ground is a self-defense doctrine that allows individuals to use force, including deadly force, in public places without the obligation to retreat if they reasonably believe that they face an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. Essentially, individuals are allowed to “stand their ground” and defend themselves where they have a lawful right to be.
      • Unlike the Duty To Retreat, in Stand Your Ground jurisdictions, there is no legal requirement to try to escape or avoid the confrontation before using force.
      • This principle is often associated with the use of lethal force in response to a perceived threat.
      • Stand Your Ground laws can also vary by state, with some states having clear provisions while others have more complex legal interpretations.
    • Castle Doctrine
      • The Castle Doctrine is a legal principle that allows people to use force, including deadly force, to defend their home or “castle” from intruders without the obligation to retreat. It presumes that a person’s home is their safe haven, and they have the right to protect it.
        • It typically applies within one’s home, place of residence, or sometimes even a workplace.
        • In many jurisdictions, there’s no duty to retreat before using force if an intruder threatens or enters the premises unlawfully.
        • The Castle Doctrine varies by state, with different states having different interpretations and specific laws regarding its application.

Keep in mind that how these rules work can change a lot depending on where you are. The laws and how they’re understood can be quite different from place to place. So, it’s a good idea for folks to know what the self-defense laws are in the state they are in.

Also, the legal stuff about self-defense can get pretty tricky. The details of each case can really affect what happens in court. That’s why it’s important to talk to a legit lawyer (like me) if you ever find yourself in a self-defense situation. I can help you figure out what applies in your neck of the woods and how to handle it.

When reasonable force turns deadly

It may be tempting to try to take initiative to avoid being injured by someone threatening you, or to get the upper hand in a fight by taking it to the next level, but if you can retreat, you should. You may think that a fist-fight isn’t unreasonable because of how common they seem to be, and how when you’re punching someone, you’re generally not thinking of killing them; but what if who you’re punching falls and cracks their head open on a curb, or your punch dislodges plaque from their artery and causes them to have a heart attack. Maybe you’re not even punching someone. Maybe you shove them back, and they fall onto something sharp.

This is where the assistance of an Annapolis assault defense attorney is crucial. A criminal defense attorney like me works on proving that reasonable force was used in an assault or murder charge by building a strong defense based on the principles of self-defense and the circumstances of the incident. First, I will thoroughly investigate the case, gathering evidence such as witness statements, surveillance footage, and any available physical evidence. I aim to establish that you had a genuine and reasonable belief that you were in imminent danger of physical harm or death at the time of the alleged assault. This belief is a key element in justifying the use of force in self-defense.

Additionally, I can assess whether the force used was proportional to the perceived threat. I may argue that you used no more force than necessary to protect yourself or others from harm. To help you beat an assault charge, a good defense lawyer can present a narrative that makes sense with the idea of self-defense. I’ll gather evidence such as witness accounts and security camera footage to show that you genuinely thought you were in danger of getting hurt or worse when the incident happened. I may argue that the amount of force you used was fair and didn’t go overboard.

In the end, whether this defense works depends on how well your attorney can make your case. They have to convince the court that you did what anyone would do in that situation, and you didn’t cross the line when it comes to the law’s rules on using reasonable force in self-defense. At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, we can help. I understand Maryland’s self-defense laws and know what is and isn’t reasonable force. If you have been charged with assault, and you believe you used reasonable force, contact me today. To schedule a free consultation, call our offices or use our contact form. We maintain an additional office in Ellicott City if that works better for you.

Just remember — Keep Calm, and Call Drew!