Self-defense and defense of others charges in Rhode Island
The law recognizes various defenses to assault offenses. A person may use physical force to defend himself whenever he reasonably believes that he or she is in imminent danger of bodily harm. This is called the right of self-defense.
Similarly, a person may defend another person whenever he reasonably believes that person is in imminent danger of bodily harm. This is called the defense of others. The person need not wait for the other person to strike the first blow before using self-defense or physical force necessary to defend others.
A person may claim self-defense or defense of others:
- if he actually believed he was in imminent danger of bodily harm and
- if he had reasonable grounds for that belief
If so, the defendant may use a reasonable amount of force he believed necessary to repel the attack or threat. The question is not whether in hindsight the amount of force the defendant used was necessary. Rather, it is whether the defendant, under all the circumstances, the defendant actually and reasonably he or another was in imminent danger of bodily harm.
To act in self-defense or defense of others, a person may use an amount of force reasonably believed necessary to protect himself or another from imminent harm. What is reasonable and necessary force is determined in light of the time, place, and surrounding circumstances at the time force was used.
The law draws a distinction between non-deadly and deadly force when acting in self-defense or the defense or others. In some circumstances, a person may use deadly force to protect himself or another.
Deadly force is an amount of force that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. However, a person may only use deadly force where the defendant believes that he or another is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm. In summary, deadly force can 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 threat.
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.
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 escape existed or the defendant attempted but unsuccessfully retreated and the threat was still present, deadly force may be authorized.
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 having been asked to leave, there is duty to retreat. A person assailed at home by a co-occupant is not entitled under the guise of self-defense to employ deadly force.
The person attacked obligated to attempt retreat if he or she is aware of a safe available avenue of retreat.