Can You Preemptively Punch Someone if You Believe You Are in Danger?

When most people think of acts of self-defense, they assume the person defending himself or herself was responding to being hit first. In the real world, things aren’t always that simple. People who have reasonable reason to believe they are about to be attacked sometimes use force to prevent harm to themselves.

Why It Matters
More often than not, people who defend themselves from violence still face charges for assault if they make the first strike. The defendant will then hire a Criminal Defense Attorney who can help to prove that he or she was not truly the aggressor and that reasonable force was used to prevent an attack.

Proving the Case
It can be challenging to prove that the first person to use force was acting in self-defense. It’s not enough for the defendant to prove that he or she felt threatened. The jury or judge must also believe that any reasonable person would have reacted similarly with reasonable force to prevent the attack.

While using force in self-defense is legal, the preventative force can only be used with good reason. Just seeing someone who looks threatening walking down the street is not a justification for swinging at a stranger. The potential aggressor must take actual action that indicates that he or she will present an immediate threat. Let’s take a look at two examples to illustrate the point.

Example One: Acceptable Use of Preventative Force
Two people have gotten into an argument after a minor car accident. Driver A forms his hand into a fist and quickly approaches driver B with his arm raised.

Driver B believes, in this case understandably, that he is about to be punched. He knocks driver A to the ground and restrains him to prevent a fight from occurring.

In this example, Driver B acted in self-defense. Any reasonable person who sees another man raising a fist as if to strike would believe he was about to be punched. Driver B did not have to wait until his aggressor made contact to act in self-defense and take him to the ground.

Example Two: Unacceptable Use of Preventative Force
Two people are walking in opposite directions down a sidewalk. Walker A feels threatened because he has been in fights with walker B in the past, but walker B has not even noticed the approach of his one-time foe.

Walker A takes it into his head that walker B will strike him as he walks by as a result of the two people’s personal history, despite the fact that walker B has not taken on any kind of aggressive stance. He punches walker B in the face, and a fight ensues.

In this case, walker A does not have a valid self-defense claim. He is the aggressor despite believing that he was about to be attacked. A reasonable person would not assume, based on interpersonal history alone, that someone was about to assault him.

The Importance of Seeking Legal Counsel
Even if the situation seems like it should obviously point to self-defense, anyone who uses preventative force should still seek legal counsel. Criminal defense lawyers know the ins and outs of all the relevant laws, and they know how to build a self-defense case that will stand up to scrutiny.

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