Key Differences between Assault and Self-Defense

Though you have the right to protect yourself and the people around you from a threat, there are limits on when you can use physical force. You are also limited in the amount of force you can use in different situations.

In other words, there is a fine line between assault and self-defense in the eyes of the law. The legal differences between assault and self-defense can be confusing, but it’s very important to understand situations where you can or cannot use physical force.

Assault vs Self Defense

If a physical encounter falls outside of Colorado self-defense law, it can be charged as assault. This makes the distinction crucial for citizens to understand.

Colorado Revised Statute 18-1-704 states that a person is legally justified in using force to “defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose.”

Essentially, if you have reason to believe that a person is about to attack you, or if you are being attacked, you can use the necessary amount of physical force. It’s important to note that the degree of while defending yourself, that would be an unreasonable amount of force and you would not be protected under this statute.

In certain circumstances, the right to self-defense is not protected. For example, during a mutual altercation—meaning you and the other person were fighting. You are also not protected if you provoke the person to use force and then try to claim self-defense.

Deadly physical force can only be used if a lesser amount of force would be inadequate to defend yourself. You can also use deadly force if you believe you or someone else is in imminent danger of death, kidnapping, sexual assault, or grievous bodily harm. There is also an exception made for homeowners under Colorado’s “Make My Day” law.

Colorado’s “Make My Day” Law

Similar to Florida’s famous “Stand Your Ground” law, section 18-1-704.5 allows Colorado residents the right to use physical force—including deadly force—against intruders on their property.

“Make My Day” certainly does not, as many people believe, give citizens license to shoot or kill any unwanted visitor on their property. To fall under this law’s protection, specific conditions must be met.

First, the intruder must have made a knowing, unlawful entry into the dwelling. Second, the occupant must reasonably believe the intruder was about to commit a crime or was in the process of committing a crime (such as a burglary) in addition to the illegal entry. Third, the occupant must reasonably believe the intruder might use physical force against any occupant.

Defending Your Right to Self-Defense

Claiming self-defense is far from a “get out of jail free” card. Often an investigation will still be conducted, and it is possible you will have to go to trial to defend your actions. First, the police responding to the scene will investigate. The DA will then review the officer’s investigation, determining whether your force was justifiable under Colorado law.

If the DA decides your use of force was not justified, you will be charged with a crime. If you are charged, an affirmative defense may be made at a jury trial. Essentially, you are admitting that you used physical force, but asserting it should not be prosecuted as a crime.

If you have received a criminal charge in a situation you believe was self-defense, you should not assume your case will be dismissed. It is critical you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure you are not wrongly charged, fined, or incarcerated.


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