*Note: This is a reprint of an article I wrote under another name a while back.*

As I mentioned in a previous article, whenever there’s a fight, the police nearly always hear “self-defense” from both parties. There are, however, 4 boundaries that enclose what may legally be considered self-defense. You break any of these boundaries, and you’re likely to end up in jail for assault at the very least.

1. Physical Danger

The danger to you must be physical. This means someone slandering you or spreading libel is not a legal justification for responding physically. This also includes such provocations as: making fun of your mother/sister, spitting, or sleeping with your spouse. There are other remedies for these. Ask a lawyer.

2. Imminent Danger

Imminent danger means that the punch is on its way. This also applies to near certain probability, such as you just saw someone wipe out 5 people in sequence. Then he approaches you the same way he approached them. It would be considered a reasonable assumption that he’s coming after you next.

What is not included in “imminent danger” is the suspicion that someone is about to attack you without visual and recognizable proof (as in the example above). Somebody turning to the side and reaching inside a coat is NOT imminent danger unless you know for a FACT that he has a weapon there AND he intends to use it on you. For all you know, he may be cradling a broken rib.

3. The End is The End

If the attacker retreats from the field of battle, you may not continue the fight. Once the person is no longer an observable threat, any further attack becomes assault. Whether he turns his back to you to run, or raises his hands, he is no longer legally considered a threat. Does this mean he is ACTUALLY no longer a threat? No. Watch for a renewed attack. Be ready in case he comes back. If an observable threat manifests, you’re in a self-defense situation once more.

4. Don’t Provoke

Even if your attacker actually swings first, if you played an observable part in escalating the situation, the law will take a dim view of your assertion of self-defense. Does this mean that you should cave in to an aggressive person? No. But remember that direct confrontation is usually considered escalation to most people. If witnesses can testify that you stayed calm and tried to redirect, you have a much better chance of successfully using the “self-defense” defense.

Please note that many people will say they understand these boundaries, but when emotions are high, it is easy to become provocative. It is also very easy to misinterpret a surrendering movement for reaching for a concealed weapon. Remember: This is SELF-DEFENSE, not self-preemptive-strike.