Gray Areas of the Law & the Difficulty of Self-Defense Cases
Facing criminal charges is usually not expected after defending yourself against an unprovoked attack. Unfortunately, there are gray areas in the law regarding self-defense. The actual commencement of the attack, unavoidable imminence of an attack, and other factors determine whether or not you acted in self-defense or committed assault.
Hitting First and the Legal Woes
Self-defense is legally defined as protecting yourself from an attempted injury by another person. Defending yourself against someone who has hit you one or more times is likely going to be justifiable. Even if the person has not struck you a single time, it may still be possible to legally defend yourself if an attack blatantly forthcoming.
An aggressor who grabs your collar with one hand and reels back to throw a punch with the other is clearly showing an intent to cause harm. Striking the person before the punch lands might easily be considered justifiable. If the imminent attack is not so clearly pronounced, claiming "not guilty due to self-defense" becomes a bit harder.
Non-Engagement vs. Engagement
An aggressor who is standing still and threatens to attack you, but makes no direction motion towards you and never presents a weapon is not considered an imminent threat. Walking up to this person and hitting the individual in the jaw would almost surely be considered assault. Had the person screamed intentions to harm you and then lunged forward, a defensive attack is very likely to be deemed self-defense.
When someone makes a slightly aggressive motion and you are forced into making a split-second judgment call, the law becomes a little ambiguous. For example, striking and seriously injuring a person who loudly threatens to commit harm and leans towards you aggressively may or may not be considered self-defense. The decision might ultimately rest with the jury if the case goes to trial.
Plea Bargaining to Avoid Trial
There is another option besides leaving the matter to a jury. A good criminal defense attorney could arrange to plea bargain a felony aggravated assault charge down to misdemeanor simple assault. Mitigating circumstances could lead to a favorable plea bargain arrangement. For example, if you have no prior criminal record and the person who threatened you was under the influence of drugs, the district attorney could be willing to allow a plea deal.
The Expungement Option
As part of the plea deal, a criminal defense attorney could also work a "set aside" agreement. An example of this would be pleading guilty to simple assault and, after successfully completing a probation period, the conviction would be expunged. Once expunged, no record would exist of you ever having been convicted of a crime.
While a plea bargain may not seem like the best option, when a self-defense claim is weak, it may be the only option. Visit resources like http://www.anggelisandgordon.com to learn more about your legal options.