If you are charged with a crime in Louisiana because you were defending yourself or others, you may be able to claim self-defense.
Self-defense is a defense to charges that you committed a violent crime, including assault, battery, or even murder. Successfully arguing self-defense may mean the difference between going to prison and walking away from the charges.I have over 34 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney, and I am here to help. Contact my office today to discuss the charges against you or a loved one at 504-368-8440.
What does self-defense mean?
If you have been accused of assault, battery, or homicide in Louisiana, you may be able to argue that you were acting in self-defense. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect yourself or others from harm from another person’s attack. You must have reason to believe you are in danger.
Self-defense is an affirmative defense in Louisiana. There are multiple affirmative defenses in Louisiana law. An affirmative defense is when a person accused of a crime says that maybe he did an illegal act but that he had a legal reason for doing it. The accused bears the burden of presenting enough evidence to show that he can use an affirmative defense.
If an accused can convince a jury or judge that he was acting in self-defense, then he may be found “not guilty” at trial—even when there is evidence that the accused did an illegal act.
When can you use self-defense in Louisiana?
In general, you can use force or violence against another person if that person is trying to use force or violence against you, or is trying to take your property forcefully or violently. The level of force or violence must be reasonable. Force or violence must also be apparently necessary to prevent force or violence.
Force or violence may also be used to prevent a person from unlawfully entering a house, business, or car that you are lawfully inside. To use force or violence, you must reasonably believe that the force or violence is necessary to prevent the intruder from unlawfully entering, or necessary to cause the intruder to leave. See, LA R.S. 14:19.
Can I always argue self-defense as long as I was defending myself?
No, you cannot argue that you acted in self-defense if you used force or violence first unless you retreated. You also cannot use the defense of self-defense if you were doing something illegal at the time, like buying, selling, or possessing illegal drugs. Finally, if you were not allowed to be in the home, business, or vehicle in which you used force or violence, you cannot claim self-defense.
What is reasonable force to use in self-defense in Louisiana?
Reasonable force is not what you personally believe to be reasonable. A reasonable amount of force is what an average person in your position would consider reasonable.
For example, if a man is trying to punch you and does not have any weapons, it would likely be unreasonable to take out a gun and shoot him in response. However, because each situation is different, there is no clear answer about what always is or is not reasonable.
When is self-defense considered necessary in Louisiana?
Figuring out whether force was apparently necessary is different than whether the level of force was reasonable. Using force in self-defense is apparently necessary if you personally believe that force is needed to prevent or stop another’s attack. Whether force or violence is apparently necessary will depend on your mindset during the situation.
Can I still plead self-defense if I killed someone while defending myself?
Unless you are trying to prevent an unlawful entry or compel an intruder to leave, you can only claim self-defense after killing someone if you reasonably believed that you were in imminent danger of losing your life or receiving great bodily harm. You must also believe you needed to use deadly force to save your life.
Additionally, you may use deadly force if deadly force is necessary to prevent someone from unlawfully entering a home, business, or vehicle. You must be legally inside of that home, business, or vehicle. Deadly force may also be used to compel an intruder to leave when you are lawfully inside.
However, you must reasonably believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent the unlawful entry or to cause the intruder to leave. See, LA R.S. 14:20. This is also known as a “stand your ground” law.
Does Louisiana have a “stand your ground” law? What is a “stand your ground” law?
Yes, Louisiana’s “stand your ground” law is a law that provides additional situations in which a person can use deadly force. Under the law, if a person is legally allowed to use self-defense and in a place where she has a right to be, then she has no duty to retreat before using force or violence. She may stand her ground and meet force with force.
You do not need to believe that you are in danger of losing your life or receiving great bodily harm, but you must believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent an intruder from entering the house, business, or vehicle.
The Louisiana “stand your ground” law assumes that you had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary if:
(1) You were lawfully inside of a house, business or vehicle.
(2) You used deadly force against a person who was trying to unlawfully and forcibly enter that house, business, or vehicle (or had already unlawfully and forcibly entered).
(3) You knew that an unlawful and forcible entry was happening or had happened.
La. R.S. 14:20(B).
Can I claim self-defense for resisting an unlawful arrest in Louisiana?
Yes, you can claim self-defense for unlawful arrests. You cannot claim self-defense for illegal arrests.
However, it is never wise resist arrest even if you believe the arrest is unlawful. It is likely that you would catch extra charges for battery, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice.
This is true even if the arrest seemed to lack probable cause. You must prove you were unlawfully arrested in court. Arguing about your arrest at the time of arrest is unwise and potentially dangerous.
What is an unlawful arrest? What is the difference between an unlawful arrest and an illegal arrest?
An unlawful arrest is an arrest where there is not probable cause to arrest you.
This is different from an illegal arrest, which is an arrest under an unconstitutional statute. You cannot claim self-defense for an illegal arrest.
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DISCLAIMER: This is a list of questions frequently asked by our clients and their families. The answers are brief and general in content. They are not intended to apply to every criminal situation. The answers are only intended to help you begin to understand self-defense in Louisiana and prepare you for our first meeting. This information is not intended to replace the advice of a competent and experienced criminal defense lawyer as each case is different. Therefore, answers to the above questions will depend on the facts of your case. You should also be aware that there are many books and thousands of cases that attempt to answer these complex questions.