When is Defense of Others a Valid Defense?

Posted by Ronald D. HeddingOct 28, 2019

Acting Reasonably Under The Circumstances. Defense of others you don't see a lot in criminal defense.  I've been doing this for twenty-five years.   I very rarely see it used as a defense.  Once in a while, where it comes into play is where somebody does something to another individual or individuals in the security of another person.

For example, if somebody were beating somebody up and another person came in and knocked that person down, hit them, and subdued them because they were beating another person up, and the person that got suppressed tried to have a police file a battery charge against the individual that was helping the other person. That individual could claim that they were defending another person.

The test for the defense of another is reasonableness.  In other words, it was the person who purportedly acted in defense of another, acting reasonably under the circumstances.  So, in our scenario where someone is being beaten up, and then a good Samaritan comes along and uses some physical violence against the person who's beating that person up — if they hit them or pushed them or knocked them off the victim, that certainly would be reasonable under the circumstances.

But, if they came with a gun and shot them, that would probably be unreasonable.  That would be using too much force under the circumstances.  You can only use that force necessary to stop the person from being beaten up in our scenario. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will explain further below. 

Defense of Others in Criminal Cases

Most things in criminal defense are reasonableness.  If you look at something and it makes common sense to you and seems reasonable to you, you would probably have the protection of the defense of another related to a criminal case.  Of course, you have to have all the underlying circumstances before deciding whether you're trying to assert a defense of others effectively.

For example, let's say you were there and two parties engaged in an argument in that same scenario. The party you tried to defend later was the one who precipitated the fight and attached the other party.

Then they started to lose the fight because the other party defended themselves more skillfully. Then you suddenly jump into the fray and start beating up the other party; you're probably going to have a problem with that scenario.  You can't do that.

If you see somebody being viciously beaten, you could certainly stop the person from destroying them. Still, again, you have to look at the totality of the circumstances in assessing and deciding whether the defense of another is going to be reasonable under those circumstances that-a good objective person was presented with.

Review of the Entire Scenario

So, when I talk about any defense in criminal law, specifically the defense of another, I will be looking at the whole scenario.  What happened?  If there's violence involved, which usually is, who started the violence?  Who was the aggressor?  Why was the violence necessary under the circumstances, and why did it occur?

How is the person that comes in to assert the defense of defense another involved?  Why are they involved?  Why do they feel the need to act? You have to ask yourself or consider a whole slew of things.

When I have people come into my office and talk about defenses in criminal law, we talk about the whole scenario.  We don't just pick out some little tiny thing and blow that up.  We have to look at the entire picture because that's what the prosecutors are going to do, that's what the police are going to do, that's what a jury will do, that's what a judge is going to do.

So, if you've got a case where you think defense is another viable defense, let's sit down and talk about it.  Let's flush everything out, and then we can start making some informed decisions about what the best moves are pushing forward related to the defense of your criminal case. Contact the Hedding Law Firm to review the details of your case.