Indiana supports the idea that people have the right to defend themselves and others from physical harm. However, there are limits to self-defense.
What is Self-Defense?
Self-defense is an affirmative defense. This means you are admitting to something that would otherwise be illegal, but you are asking the court to find that your actions were justified. For example, let’s say someone broke into your house and you struck them. Hitting someone is considered battery, which is illegal. If you were claiming self-defense, you would admit you hit the intruder, but you did it for a justifiable reason.
When is Self-Defense Allowed?
For a self-defense claim to be successful, four elements must be present: (1) the defendant acted without fault; (2) the defendant was in a place he had a right to be; (3) the defendant was in real danger of death or great bodily harm, or believed in good faith that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm; and (4) the force employed was reasonable in response to the apparent urgency of the situation. Each element is explained in further detail below.
The defendant acted without fault.
For a defendant to act without fault, the defendant cannot have provoked, instigated, or participated willingly in the violence. So, for example, if the defendant initiated the violent exchange, the defendant cannot claim self-defense. There is an exception to this rule. The exception becomes available if the defendant initiated the fight but withdrew and tried walking away. If, after the defendant stepped away, the alleged victim came after him, the defendant could argue self-defense if he fought back.
The defendant was in a place he had a right to be.
Let’s say the defendant wanted to use self-defense, but was trespassing at the time of the encounter. The defendant would not be able to use self-defense as an argument because he did not have a right to be on that property.
The defendant was in real danger of death or bodily harm, or believed in good faith that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm.
If the defendant is not in actual danger (or does not believe he is in actual danger) then he cannot use self-defense. Let’s say the defendant is in an argument with someone and they are both yelling at each other. The defendant can’t just punch the other person and claim self-defense because there is no indication that the defendant was in danger.
The force employed was reasonable in response to the apparent urgency of the situation.
If the defendant used excessive or unreasonable force, a self-defense claim will be unsuccessful. Let’s say that the defendant is in an argument on his front lawn and the other person punches the defendant in the jaw. In response, the defendant pulls out a gun and shoots the other person. All the other elements are met. The other person initiated the fight, the defendant is on his own property, and the defendant was in real danger of bodily harm. However, shooting a gun at someone is an unreasonable response to a punch in the jaw. Because the force was excessive, a self-defense claim would probably not be successful.
This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.