If you’re charged with an assault, battery, or even a homicide, you may be able to defend yourself against the charge by showing that you were defending yourself or another.
The availability of this defense generally depends on whether certain circumstances were present when you used force against another person:
- The other person was the initial aggressor. (Some exceptions apply).
- You were lawfully present in whatever place or location where the altercation occurred.
- You were not engaged in any illegal activity.
- You believed that the use of force was necessary to prevent injury or loss. “Necessary to prevent” means you had an honest belief that the danger existed regardless of whether the danger was real or just appeared to be real.
- The use of force was “reasonable” in light of the threat. (For example, stabbing someone who pushed you is not likely reasonable. Nor is punching someone who poked you in the side.)
See Johns v. State, 409 P.3d 1260, 1265 (Wyo. 2018); see also Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 6-2-602.
Self-defense can apply if you are defended another against immediate danger or unlawful bodily harm so long as you reasonably believe the danger or harm is about to occur (is “imminent”) and you only use the force reasonable and necessary to prevent the threat (actual or perceived). See Smith v. State, 2021 WY 28, ¶¶ 29-33.
In any case, self-defense or defense of another, if you were or the person you are defending was the “initial aggressor” who provoked the conflict, you usually cannot raise the defense. However, if you are the initial aggressor and you withdraw from the fight letting the other person know through words or actions that you are done fighting, and then that other person continues to pursue you and restart the fight, you may be able to raise self-defense assuming all the other conditions are present. See Smith, 2021 WY 28, ¶¶ 42-44. Here’s a useful quote on this point:
For deadly force, you must believe deadly force is required to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury. In most cases, this requires the threat of deadly or near-deadly force. This threat could be present if the other person wields a deadly weapon, like a firearm, an object that looks like a firearm, or a knife. It may also be present if the other person attempts to strangle you. Of course, whether deadly force is justified based on the threat presented will depend on the particular facts and circumstances of the altercation.
So, if someone attacks you or a person around you, you can respond with force to stop the threat. However, the amount of force you use is important. You cannot go nuclear in response to a mosquito bite. And you cannot use force if you started it unless you fully walked away first.