Self Defense is an effective defense to criminal charges in Michigan under the right circumstances. The Prosecution has the sole burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual accused of a crime did not act in self defense. In Michigan, a person has the right to use force or even take a life to defend him or herself, or another person, under certain circumstances. Generally to act in self defense, the individual must have honestly and reasonably believed that he or she, or another person, was in danger of being killed, seriously injured, or raped. Even if the individual was wrong about how much danger was involved, this defense is valid as long as the belief was honest, reasonable, and immediately necessary. Under the law, a person may only use as much force as he or she thinks is necessary at the time to defend himself, herself, or another person. An individual may not kill or seriously injure another person against what seems like a threat of a minor injury. All the circumstances are evaluated by the jury when considering this defense: the conditions of the persons involved; differences in strength; whether the other person was armed with a weapon or had some other means to cause physical injury; the nature of the other person’s attack or threat; whether the individual knew of any previous violent acts or threats made by the other person; whether the individual had other ways of protecting him or herself; did the excitement of the moment affect the choice made by the individual to defend him or herself; whether the individual could have retreated; or any other circumstances that existed at the time the individual acted.
A individual using self defense in Michigan never has a duty to retreat if attacked in his or her own home, if the individual feels that the attacked is about to use a deadly weapon, or if the individual is subject to a sudden, fierce, and violent attack. Further, the individual is not required to retreat if he or she has not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time the deadly force is used, has a legal right to be where the individual is at the time, and has an honest and reasonable belief that use of deadly force is necessary to prevent imminent death, great bodily harm, or rape of the individual or another person.
An individual who assaults someone else with fists or a weapon that is not deadly, insults someone else with words, trespasses on another person’s property, or tries to take someone else’s property in a nonviolent way does not lose all right to self defense. If someone else assaults him or her with deadly force, the individual may act in self defense only if the individual retreats if it is safe to do so. Generally, the person claiming self defense must not have acted wrongfully and brought on the assault unless the individual used only words. The right of self defense only last as long as it seems necessary for the purpose of protection.
An individual who is attacked by more than one person, or by one person and others helping and encouraging the attacker, has the right to act in self defense against all of them. However, before using deadly force against one of the attackers, the individual must honestly and reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent danger of death, great bodily harm, or rape by that particular person.
In many instances the Prosecutor’s office will decide not to prosecute if self defense is applicable. The issue of whether the self defense was justified under the circumstances is always a question for a Jury or Judge to decide if the matter proceeds to trial, and will not be dismissed based upon motion or at preliminary examination. To successfully argue self defense, the Defense attorney must adequately prepare the case and interview available witnesses before trial. Often it is necessary for the Defendant to testify to adequately present the defense, given that self defense is often a subjective determination based upon the Defendant’s state of mind. If self defense is not argued and asserted during trial, the defense will not be considered by the Jury or Judge sitting in judgment of the case.
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