Using Self-Defense in a Criminal Trial

Published: Mar 31, 2017, by admin in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog

Everyone is aware that they have a legal right to protect themselves from attacks against their person or their home. However, the law regarding the use of self-defense varies from state to state and each state can have different rules on how the concept of self-defense is used at trial. The current self-defense law for Illinois has been in place since 2004 and the Illinois Supreme Court has set forth the factual elements that must be established for a defendant to assert self-defense at trial.

If you are charged with a crime when you believe you have acted in self-defense, it is important to have an experienced Chicago criminal attorney on your side to properly assert the defense in court. Call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706 to discuss your specific situation.

Illinois Self-Defense Law

The law regarding self-defense in Illinois is set forth in 720 ILCS 5/7-1. The statute states that a person is justified in using force against another person, “when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force.”

The use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm in self-defense is limited to instances where a person “reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.”

Illinois Law for the Defense of a Dwelling

Illinois provides for the use of self-defense in the defense of a dwelling in 720 ILCS 5/7-2. The law states that a person is justified in the use of force against another, “when and to the extent that he reasonably believes such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other’s unlawful entry into or attack upon a dwelling.”

The use of force likely to cause death or great bodily harm to defend a dwelling is limited to situations where the attempted entry is in a violent manner in such a way that the person reasonably believes it is necessary to prevent an assault upon a person in the dwelling, or if the person reasonably believes such force is necessary to prevent the commission of a felony in the dwelling.

Assertion of Self-Defense at Trial

Self-defense is considered an affirmative defense, which means that even if you have acted in self-defense you must still assert and prove that defense at trial. According to case law in Illinois, there are a number of facts that you must establish at trial for a jury to be instructed regarding self-defense. The Illinois Supreme Court has stated that a defendant needs to provide some evidence of six different elements regarding self-defense, and they are:

  1. Force is threatened against a person

  2. The person threatened is not the aggressor

  3. The danger of harm was imminent

  4. The threatened force was unlawful

  5. The person actually and subjectively believed a danger existed which required the use of the force applied

  6. Their beliefs were objectively reasonable

If a defendant provides evidence of all six of the self-defense elements, the jury can then be instructed to consider if the act for which the defendant was charged was done in self-defense.

If a defendant is able to successfully assert a claim of self-defense, the prosecution still has an opportunity to challenge that defense. If the prosecution can provide evidence that one of the six self-defense elements was not met the self-defense claim can be defeated. For instance, if the prosecution proves that the defendant was actually the aggressor or that the defendant’s belief of danger was not reasonable, the defendant could still be convicted.

How a Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

Any time an altercation gives rise to criminal charges and a possible self-defense claim there are a number of issues to be decided at trial. Even if a defendant is able to successfully assert self-defense the defendant could still be found guilty of serious crimes. In order to successfully use self-defense at trial, it is critical to have a knowledgeable and experienced Chicago criminal defense lawyer to help establish your claim.

Attorney Michael O’Meara has more than 20 years of legal experience, which includes time as a state’s attorney where he prosecuted thousands of cases. Let our experience on both sides of criminal trials work for you.

Call O’Meara Law today at 312-909-0706 for a free and confidential consultation regarding your case.