There are many ways for people to respond to criminal allegations in New York. Some people have an alibi that can help them convince a judge or a jury that they were not present at the time of an alleged crime. Others may employ expert witnesses who can raise questions about the accuracy or validity of state evidence.
For those accused of violent criminal offenses, including assault, raising a claim of self-defense is one of the more common responses to indictment. Asserting that one acted in self-defense is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant admits they did something that the courts may view as illegal. However, they assert that they acted within the bounds of the law because they needed to defend themselves, their property or others.
People do have a right to protect themselves from physical harm or imminent criminal activity. However, the two rules below do limit the circumstances in which a claim of self-defense is a viable option.
The defendant cannot be the instigator
Someone cannot start a fight with another individual and then claim they acted in self-defense when the other party becomes exceptionally aggressive. The individual who made physical contact first, broke the law or threatened the other individual, prompting them to lash out, typically will not be able to claim that they acted in self-defense. If there are witness statements or security camera footage affirming that the defendant initiated physical contact, violated the law or intentionally provoked the other party, possibly by threatening or menacing them, they may not qualify to claim self-defense in a New York criminal trial.
Self-defense in a public space requires an attempt to retreat
There are some scenarios in which an individual can immediately react with physical violence in an effort to protect themselves. Someone kicking in the front door of an individual’s home, for example, would warrant an immediate attempt to defend that individual, their home and their family members. If an incident occurs in a store, at a park or in another public location, it is typically necessary for someone who acts in self-defense to first attempt to leave the situation.
Before someone has the legal right to use physical force to defend themselves, they first should make a reasonable attempt to leave the situation. In a scenario where retreat is not possible or where the other party pursues someone trying to leave the situation, then the use of physical force in self-defense could technically be legal under New York State law.
Reviewing state evidence and the situation leading to someone’s arrest can help people determine if their circumstances potentially allow for a viable self-defense claim when responding to violent criminal charges in New York.