Self-defense is an affirmative defense that justify one person causing the death of another. A killing may be justified if it resulted from a reasonable use of deadly force to resist a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm.
Similarly, a person may defend another person whenever he reasonably believes that intervention is justified, and that person is in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm. This is known as defense of others and applies if the third party victim would have been legally able to raise self defense on her or her on behalf.
A person may claim self-defense or defense of others if:
- he actually believed he was in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm
- and if he had reasonable grounds for that belief
In other words, deadly force may only be used to defend against deadly force.
The force necessary for self-defense or defense of others must be proportional and necessary to defend against the perceived threat. The reaction to the threat must take place at the time of the threat and not after it has passed. Lastly, the person claiming self-defense cannot have instigated the threatening situation.
In Rhode Island, the law requires a person to retreat or attempt to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense or defense of others. When a person actually and reasonably believes he is in danger of being attacked with deadly force and he is consciously aware of an open, safe and available avenue of escape, he must utilize it.
Failure to do so will preclude the defendant from benefiting from self-defense. Thus, if the defendant could have retreated, and did not attempt to do so, he may not use deadly force. On the other hand, if no avenue of escape existed or the defendant attempted but unsuccessfully retreated or escaped and the threat was still present, deadly force may be used in self-defense.
The occupant of a dwelling, when attacked in his home by a trespasser, does not have a duty to retreat and may use deadly force if necessary, to avoid death or great bodily harm.
When one is attacked in his dwelling by a person who initially entered as a guest, but who became a trespasser by remaining on the property after being asked to leave, there is duty to retreat. A person assailed at home by a co-occupant is not entitled to immediately resort to deadly force. Under this circumstance, the person attacked is obligated to attempt to retreat if he or she is aware of a safe and available way to do so.
Contact criminal defense lawyer John L. Calcagni, III
If you have been involved in a self-defense murder case and need experienced representation, contact the Rhode Island Murder and Homicide Defense Lawyers at the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III email or call today at (401) 351-5100 to schedule a free consultation.