The Difference Between Domestic Violence and Self-Defense

The Difference Between Domestic Violence and Self-Defense

Were you charged with domestic violence but you feel like you were simply defending yourself against someone else’s physical or emotional abuse? Self-defense is a common defense to domestic violence charges. However, in order to successfully claim that your actions resulted from self-defense, you must be able to show several things about your case.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Colorado’s Revised Statutes define domestic violence as “an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” Additionally, domestic violence includes “any other crime against a person, or against property, including an animal, or any municipal ordinance violation against a person, or against property, including an animal, when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.”

The state’s laws define an intimate relationship as one that exists between spouses, former spouses, past or present unmarried couples, or persons who are both parents of a child, regardless of whether they have been married or lived together at any time.

What Is Self-Defense?

Self-defense is defined as “the use of reasonable force to protect oneself or members of the family from bodily harm from the attack of an aggressor, if the defender has reason to believe he/she/they is/are in danger.”

What You Need to Show to Prove Self-Defense

Self-defense is a common defense used in criminal trials, particularly when a defendant has been accused of a violent crime such as assault, sexual assault, or homicide. However, in order for this defense to be effective, your attorney must be able to show through evidence the following:

1. You acted out of the belief of danger.

As explained in the definition, self-defense is the use of force to protect oneself if he or she has reason to believe that he or she is in imminent danger of bodily harm. Your attorney will look for ways to prove this, such as the evidence of defensive wounds on your body after the altercation, notations in the police report indicating that the victim in your case was behaving in a violent or intimidating manner that could lead you to believe you were in danger, or witnesses who can testify as to the victim’s behavior before the altercation.

2. Your actions involved reasonable force.

In using self-defense as a defense against charges, you must not only show that you believed you were in danger, but that the force you used was reasonable based on your perceived level of danger. For example, it would be a lot harder to argue that you defended yourself from the belief that you were about to be slapped by committing homicide than it would be to argue that you defended yourself by committing homicide because you believed you were going to be killed by someone who had been abusing you and threatening to kill you for months or years.

This is where history becomes an important piece of evidence in your case. Are there medical records showing that you had been treated for suspicious injuries in the past? Had the police been dispatched to the home over past altercations? Did the victim in your case have a previous criminal history that included charges related to domestic violence? In order to successfully argue self-defense, your attorney must be able to show that your actions were proportionate to the threat you faced.

3. You had no intent to do harm to someone else.

You must show that, in the moment of the altercation, you were only thinking of protecting your own safety. Witness statements as to your own behavior just before the altercation occurred will often be weighed when considering intent. Had you made threats in the past? Was the victim responding in a violent manner because they were afraid of you? Did they share this fear with anyone else?

Building Your Defense

If your case is built around the fact that you were defending yourself against a real or perceived danger, your attorney will also review the evidence that can be used against you in order to develop a strategy to counter that evidence. Examples of information that could be detrimental to your case include:

  • Inconsistencies in the way you said the incident occurred versus the information you gave to the police at the scene
  • Evidence that the altercation didn’t occur the way you said it could, such as damage in the house that you say the other person created but that could have only been done by you.

We Can Help

In Colorado, domestic violence is not treated as an independent crime, but rather as a sentencing enhancer that increases the punishment for other crimes. Having that enhancer affixed to a crime for which you are convicted will result in an increase of penalties and a longer-term of incarceration. Let us give you the answers you need to your legal questions about domestic violence and self-defense. Contact us today for a case evaluation.

Author Bio

alexis austin

Alexis Austin is the CEO and Managing Partner of Right Law Group, a criminal defense law firm she founded in 2018, with convenient locations in Colorado Springs, Castle Rock and Highlands Ranch. With almost a decade of experience in criminal defense, she has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, misdemeanors, felonies, domestic violence, and other criminal charges.

Alexis received her Juris Doctor from the University of Denver — Sturm College of Law and is a member of the Colorado Bar Association. She has received numerous accolades for her work, including being named among the “Top 40 Under 40” in 2018 by The National Trial Lawyers and featured in Authority Magazine’s “Top Lawyers” series.

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