How to Legally Defend Yourself Against an Attacker

The law entitles you to defend yourself, others, and your property from attack. However, you should be aware of when you are legally permitted to use force and how much force you are allowed to use so you don’t find yourself facing criminal charges.

When is force justified in Hawaii?

A person is allowed to use self-defense when they believe that such force is immediately required to protect him or herself against the use of unlawful force by an assailant. Force can be used to protect another person when the defender believes that the intervention is necessary for the protection of the other person.

The use of deadly force may be used to protect against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, rape, or forcible sodomy. If a person uses deadly force to stop an attack, he must have had a reasonable basis for fearing for his life, such as an attacker who was threatening with a gun or another deadly weapon or acting in a way that could cause serious bodily harm or death.

Self-defense laws do not allow any act of violence simply because another person threatened an attack or struck the first blow. Someone who is being attacked or threatened with imminent attack is first required to retreat without taking any physical action, if possible, and if retreat is not possible, to only use the amount of force reasonably necessary to fend off the attacker.

The justification of self-defense no longer applies when the attacker is retreating or if force continues past the point of defense and turns into an act of retaliation or revenge. The use of force cannot be used to resist arrest made by a law enforcement officer, even if the arrest is unlawful.

How much force am I entitled to use?

If you have reason to fear for your personal safety and cannot escape, you are entitled to use a reasonable degree of force to protect yourself and the people around you. A reasonable degree of force is different for every scenario but is measured in proportion to the force or threatened force that you are faced with. In other words, the judge and/or jury have to decide whether a sane person in the same circumstances would be frightened and act as the defendant did.

Self-defense using a gun

The main question with the act of brandishing or using a gun is whether gun use was reasonable or reasonably necessary in that situation. A victim cannot automatically shoot an attacker who hits or punches the victim without trying to fend him off physically because this would be using more force than was reasonably necessary to stop the attack.

If an aggressor waives or shoots a gun, pulling a gun or shooting back usually will be considered self-defense. The factual details of every situation are crucial when it comes to questions of self-defense. In some circumstances, using a gun in self-defense may be justified even if the attacker does not have a gun. For example, if an attacker has another deadly weapon such as a knife or a baseball bat and the victim can’t access any other weapon for protection, using a gun may be considered reasonable.

Even if an assailant does not have a weapon but is threatening or already attacking a victim with his hands or other body parts, a victim also might be justified in showing a weapon and warning that he will shoot, provided the victim can prove that the gun was shown in self defense to get the attacker to back off.

Castle Doctrine

There is an exception to the rule that a victim must try to retreat first before using self defense. People who are under attack in their own homes are not obligated to retreat or try to escape, even if they can do so safely. Instead, they can typically “stand their ground” and use force to protect themselves if they are in apparent danger of serious injury.

What to do following an attack

Contact the police as soon as possible after the attack. Try to remember all the details you can since you will need to provide a full account of the incident so that the attacker can be found and charged.

If the police believe you used too much force in defending yourself, you may be charged with assault. If you are charged with an offense after attempting to defend yourself or someone else, immediately consult a lawyer who is familiar with the criminal law in your state. If you used a gun in self-defense, an attorney should be contacted regardless of whether you have been charged with a crime. If you used force to protect yourself from an attack, contact experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Calvin Guetta to discuss your self-defense case.