Overview of Self-Defense Under Illinois Criminal Law

You may read about self-defense laws in high-profile cases, but the news does not always paint a complete picture of these complex laws. When you are forced to claim self-defense in an Illinois criminal case, it is usually because you stand accused of a violent crime. For this reason, it is critical to understand how self-defense laws work and to have a skilled criminal defense attorney representing you. The following are some common questions we receive regarding self-defense laws.

What is self defense?

Illinois law allows a person to protect him or herself or another person when someone’s unlawful use of force could cause them harm. In other words, if you are attacked, you can legally fight back. Your use of force in self-defense has to be reasonable and in proportion to the threat being made against you, however. In essence, you may use a shove to repel a shove, but you may not shoot someone for shoving you. Deadly force may only be used if the other individual’s actions threaten you or someone else with death or great bodily harm. In addition, you can use reasonable force against a trespasser who has illegally entered your home.

When is it reasonable to use self-defense?

You can only use deadly force in self-defense when you reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent an aggressor from causing imminent death or great bodily harm, either to yourself or someone else. Whether or not your belief is reasonable is a question for the jury. Generally, the reasonableness standard is what another individual in your position, under the same circumstances, would believe.

Self-defense in a scenario involving a dwelling is reasonable when you believe your use of force is necessary to prevent or terminate someone’s unlawful entry while you are inside your place of residence.

How much force may I use in self-defense?

According to the statute, you can only claim self-defense when you are justified in your use of force. This means that you must believe that your actions are necessary to protect yourself or someone else. Justifiable force is basically using the same amount of force as the other person is threatening. For instance, you may not be successful in claiming self-defense when you use a firearm to stop an attacker who is threatening you with fists.

What is the process for claiming self-defense in a criminal case?

Self-defense is an affirmative defense, which is a complex legal concept. In essence, this is not a who done it. In order to assert self defense, you have to admit that you engaged in a crime, but because you acted in self-defense, you should be excused from guilt. If you are unable to prove self-defense, you have basically admitted the allegations against you. The jury may find that you are guilty under such circumstances.

Do I need an attorney to represent me when claiming self-defense?

Retaining an attorney is essential in any matter involving self-defense. Illinois laws on use of force are extremely complex, and there are strict procedural rules for how you bring the issue before the court. In addition, it is likely that you are facing a lengthy jail sentence if you are convicted in a case where you claim self-defense.

For more information on how self-defense works in Illinois, please call the criminal defense lawyers at Glasgow & Olsson. You can reach our office by calling 847-577-8700 or via our website. We represent clients throughout Cook, Lake, DuPage, and McHenry Counties, and we can help you, too.

(image courtesy of Simon Migaj)

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