Claiming self-defense is often the best way to defend yourself against charges of assault or murder.
Even though there are certain legal peculiarities to claiming self-defense in New York, the following steps may help you immensely:
1. Make Sure Criminal Charges Involve Force.
New York law allows self-defense as a legal defense for crimes involving the use of physical force in two areas:
- When it is authorized or required by law, such as when a police officer uses physical force to arrest a suspect; and
- When it is necessary to prevent imminent injury to yourself, which would bring an ordinary person to act the same way in light of the consequences.
However, if you have been charged with theft or fraud, you can't claim self-defense for those charges.
2. Learn the Standard of Proof.
Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means that you are not intending to dispute the fact that you committed the act. You're just arguing that it was justified.
In order to claim the defense, you have to make a case and present evidence. But unlike the prosecution, your burden of proof is lower.
The prosecution has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But in New York, an affirmative defense must only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence -- meaning it's more than 50% likely that the evidence points to your use of self-defense.
3. Know the Exceptions.
There are a number of areas in which a defendant cannot claim self defense, even if force was used in the crime. These include:
- Resisting an officer. If you are charged with assaulting an officer while you were attempting to resist a lawful arrest, you can't claim self-defense for the assault charge.
- Using force to stop larceny. You may use physical force to stop a purse snatcher. But if you kill him, you can't claim self-defense based solely on wanting to stop his crime.
- Picking a fight. If you start a fight and use force on someone without trying to back off, you cannot claim self-defense.
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