The Blurry Line Between Self-Defense and Domestic Violence

When a less-than-ideal home situation takes a turn for the worst, it can be difficult to recognize the difference between what actions are necessary for safety and what actions only make the entire situation worse. While there are certainly cases where excessive physical force is necessary to protect oneself, there are generally more appropriate, safe, and effective methods of resolving issues and concerns without using violence.

Sometimes, self-defense in a domestic dispute is necessary, but with intense emotions of fear and anger flowing, the line between self-defense and domestic violence can appear blurry.

What is self-defense?

Self-defense is an action whereby a person uses physical force to protect him or herself. While acts of aggression and violence are typically inappropriate, when a person is using physical force solely for the purpose of protecting him or herself from the imminent infliction of bodily harm, their use of force may be lawful.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any violent or aggressive action used to harm another person, typically a spouse or child — physically, psychologically, or emotionally. These actions may be spurred on by anger, frustration, or other negative emotions and are typically not justifiable or explainable.

There are many underlying criminal offenses that are referred to generally as domestic violence, but in the context of distinguishing self-defense from domestic violence, the relevant potentially underlying offense is assault.

Unfortunately, the rate of domestic violence is alarmingly high with 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experiencing abuse from an intimate partner. In the U.S., nearly 20 people per minute experience physical abuse by an intimate partner. That is more than 10 million people in a single calendar year in America alone.

What is the difference?

The main differences between what actions are considered self-defense and what actions are considered domestic violence is the motivation for the action and the events leading up to the incident. In true self-defense scenarios, the motivation is the innate fight-or-flight response to protect oneself at all costs while, in self-defense situations, the motivation may be anger, shame, or another emotional response.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense in Colorado, which means that the defendant does not deny that they engaged in the alleged conduct, but rather argues that their conduct was justified. To prevail with a self-defense argument, Colorado law requires that a defendant both subjectively believe that they were in threat of imminent bodily harm and that their belief was objectively reasonable. If the defendant is unable to prove one of these elements, a jury may find that they did not act in self-defense.

If you have been charged with a domestic violence offense, but you were acting in self-defense, it is imperative that you have a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense lawyer at your side.

At The Moorhead Law Group, we represent clients in Boulder and throughout Colorado Front Range communities. To schedule a consultation and review of your case, call us today at (303) 447-1400 or contact us by email to schedule a free initial consultation.


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