What Does Justification Defense Mean?

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If you have been charged with a crime in Arizona, you should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney for help with defending against your charges. While you might think that you will be convicted as charged, it is possible to successfully defend against criminal charges. Defense attorney Arja Shah might use several different types of defense strategies on your behalf to show the court that you are either not guilty or should not face the most serious penalties because of the circumstances and facts of what occurred.

In some cases, people who are charged with crimes might either have justification or excuse defenses available to them.

A justification defense exists when an act occurred, but certain circumstances existed at the time to justify the defendant’s actions.

By contrast, excuse defenses exist when a defendant committed an offense but did not have the mental capacity or required belief at the time of the conduct, providing the jury or judge an opportunity to excuse what he or she did. Here is some more information about justification and excuse defenses from the Shah Law Firm.

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What are the Different Types of Justification Defenses?

A justification defense might be asserted when the incident occurred, but the defendant had a justifiable reason for committing the act. The justification defenses include the following:

  • Self-defense
  • Defense of others
  • Defense of property
  • Necessity
  • Excuse defenses

Justification defenses can be asserted as affirmative defenses to criminal charges when the benefits of what happened outweigh the negatives. When a defendant’s actions that would otherwise be criminal in nature were warranted, his or her conduct might be considered justified. While the prosecution generally has the burden of proof to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, you will have the burden of proof when you assert a justification defense.

Under Arizona Laws, ARS 13-205, defendants who raise justification defenses have the burden of proving them by a preponderance of the evidence. If you meet this burden, the prosecutor will then have the burden of disproving your affirmative defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justification Defense for Attacking in Self Defense

Justification Defense #1: Acting in Self-Defense

Self-defense is an affirmative defense that might be raised against assault, homicide, domestic violence, and other similar charges. You can assert this defense under ARS 13-404 when you threatened or used physical force to defend against the alleged victim’s threatened violence or violent acts.

The degree of force that you used must be the same that a reasonable person in the same situation would have used. It must be proportional to the harm you faced.

For example, if a person pointed a gun at you and threatened to shoot you, shooting him or her in self-defense might be justified. However, if a person swung a fist at you, shooting and killing him would likely not be considered to be justified since your conduct far exceeded the defendant’s threatened physical force.

Self-defense will not work if you acted in response to a verbal provocation alone. For example, if you shot the victim because he or she cursed at you, that would not qualify as an act of self-defense.

Using physical force against a police officer who is trying to place you under arrest will also not be considered to be justified. Finally, if you provoked the other person’s use of force against you, your actions will not be justified.

For example, if you hit another person at a bar, and he hits you back, any further physical force you use against him will not qualify as self-defense unless you first left the situation. If you start a bar fight and subsequently extricate yourself from the situation, you might be able to claim self-defense against the second attack.

In order for self-defense to qualify as a justification defense, your actions must have occurred in response to an imminent threat of physical force together with the victim’s intent to follow through on the threat.

For example, if someone threatened you with a gun and stated that he or she intended to kill you, shooting him or her in that immediate moment might qualify as self-defense. However, if you left the area and later returned with a gun to shoot the person who threatened you earlier, that would not qualify as self-defense.

In the case of domestic violence victims, Arizona has created an exception under ARS 13-415. Under this statute, people who have been the victims of domestic violence perpetrated by the alleged victim in the criminal case do not have to meet the state of mind standard of a reasonable person to claim self-defense. Instead, their state of mind only has to be what a reasonable person who has also been the victim of domestic violence would be in the situation.

For example, if your spouse has repeatedly subjected you to physical abuse in the past, you might be able to claim self-defense if you shot him or her when you believed that he or she might attack you again even though there might have been a pause in his or her abuse of you.

The proportionality of force you used is important. You cannot use more force than what you were threatened with.

For example, if a robber pulled a knife on you, grabbed your wallet, and then ran away, pulling out a pistol and shooting him in the back would not qualify as self-defense. This is because human life is valued more highly than personal property, and the threat you faced from the knife had already passed when the robber ran away.

In some states, you have a duty to retreat before using deadly force. However, under ARS 13-405, Arizona specifically states that you do not have a duty to retreat when you are threatened with deadly force and are in a place where you are legally allowed to be and have not committed any illegal act.

For example, if someone tries to hit you in the head with a baseball bat while you are in a public park, using deadly force immediately in response to the imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death might be justified. You also would not have the duty to try to run away before using it.

Justification Defense #2: Defense of, or Protecting Others

Another type of defense strategy that might be used to justify your actions occurred when you acted while protecting others even if you were not personally threatened with physical force.

Under ARS 13-406, you can assert that you acted in defense of another person when that person is being attacked or threatened with force by someone else, and you intervene.

This defense is similar to self-defense since the threat to the other person must be immediate, and the force you use to protect him or she must be proportionate. In general, you can only assert the defense of others if the other person would have been allowed to use self-defense to defend himself or herself.

For example, if you see a man hitting a woman on a sidewalk, you could claim the defense of others if you struck the man to defend the woman. By contrast, if you learn that your daughter was the victim of domestic violence by her ex-boyfriend, you cannot claim the defense of others if you later find and kill her abuser since she was not in immediate danger of harm from him.

Justification Defense #3: Necessity Defense

Under the statute ARS 13-417, Arizona recognizes you can claim necessity defense if your actions in committing a criminal offense were necessary to prevent a greater harm from happening.

You can assert this defense if you reasonably believed committing the act was necessary to prevent immediate harm, and the need to prevent the harm outweighs the harm you caused by breaking the law. There also must not have been an adequate alternative available to you other than committing the offense.

For example, a man who drives on a suspended license to take his wife to the hospital when she is in labor might be able to claim a necessity defense. However, you cannot assert this defense if you created the situation that led you to commit the criminal offense. For example, if you assaulted someone and then drove on a suspended license to try to get him or her medical care, you would not be able to raise this defense for driving on a suspended license.

Defense of Property Justification Defenses

Justification Defense #4: Defense of Property

Under ARS 13-408, you can claim that you acted in defense of property when you used physical force to prevent someone from stealing tangible property in your possession. For example, if a robber grabbed your purse, you would be justified if you assaulted him or her to prevent your purse from being taken from you. You can also claim that you acted to defend your property if someone acted imminently threatening to damage it.

For example, if you find someone standing with a can of spray paint pointed at your car, you could claim defense of property if you struck the can out of the person’s hand and caused injury to prevent him or her from damaging your vehicle.

Justification Defense #5: Excuse Defenses

Excuse defenses are defenses that might be raised when you admit the act occurred while providing a reason for the court to find you not guilty because you lacked criminal intent or mental capacity at the time you committed the offense.

Some types of excuse defenses include the following:

  • Insanity defense
  • Mistake of fact
  • Duress or coercion
  • Reduced mental capacity because of mental illness
  • Entrapment

The insanity defense might be raised in a murder case in which the person admits the person was killed but did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killing because of a mental illness. A diminished capacity defense is similar to an insanity defense, but it is not a complete defense of a crime.

In a diminished capacity defense, the person might argue that because of his or her diminished capacity, the element of intent was lacking. In the murder case scenario, someone might claim a diminished capacity defense might help him or her to avoid a conviction for murder but to receive a conviction for manslaughter instead.

Get Help from an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime, you should meet with an experienced attorney at the Shah Law Firm as soon as possible. We can talk to you about all of the potential justification defense strategies that might be raised in your case and work to develop a customized approach for your case.

Speak directly to attorney Arja Shah today by calling 602-560-7408.

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