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Self-Defense in Assault Cases

Self-Defense in Missouri Assault Cases

Often, in cases of assault, battery, or other related crimes against the person, the theory of self-defense is raised by the defendant. Missouri provides a definition of self-defense by statute, §563.011 R.S.Mo. It states that physical force is authorized if a person reasonably believes force is necessary to defend himself from what he reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force by the other person. The use of “reasonable belief” in the definition means that if the average person in the same circumstances would have felt that imminent unlawful force was necessary, then the defensive force is justified. Therefore, the defendant could be wrong in his belief, yet if the belief was reasonable it can be used as a defense.

Deadly force can also be justified in certain situations. However, one may use deadly force only to protect oneself against death or serious physical injury. Serious physical injury is defined as “physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death or that causes serious disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part of the body” § 556.061 R.S.Mo. In addition, there must be some affirmative action or gesture from the other person indicating the immediacy of the threat.

In order for the jury to consider self-defense during deliberations, there must be substantial evidence that it was justified. However, the defendant’s testimony alone can meet this burden as long as it contains some evidence of justifying self-defense. Whether or not the jury decides to believe the testimony by itself and enter an acquittal is up to them. Often, additional evidence is produced such as an eye witness account or facts showing that the other person involved has a propensity to fight.

There is a significant amount of case law on self-defense and the ability to raise it, much of which is outside the scope of this article. To discuss self-defense in Missouri or if you are in need of a criminal defense attorney, call Henderson & Waterkotte, P.C. at 314-645-4400 to speak with a lawyer today.