Self-Defense Laws: What You Need To Know

Self-Defense Laws

In early March 2017, Janel Boer, 43, from Scotts, Michigan was arraigned on open murder and felony firearm charges for the alleged shooting death of her husband Gregory Boer. The shooting happened, and Gregory Boer died, on Valentine’s Day.

Very little else is known about this case. Janel Boer had called to report the shooting, deputies responded, and Gregory Boer was found dead at the scene. Janel also had an apparent gunshot wound. She became a suspect and was arrested on March 1.

Boer’s attorney has declined to speak about her injuries. He has told the press that her relationship with her husband was volatile. In addition, he believes she will be vindicated when evidence is presented in court. Bond was denied to Boer at her arraignment.

We can’t know if Boer’s attorney will argue a self-defense motive because we don’t know all of the details of the case. Generally, courts recognize a person’s right to protect him or herself from harm under threatening circumstances – even if what you do to protect yourself with otherwise be seen as a crime.

Each state, and also our federal government, allows a defendant to claim self-defense when charged with a violent crime. The specific rules vary according to the jurisdiction.

Self-Defense and Imminent Threat

The law says violence in self-defense is justifiable only in response to an immediate threat.

For example, if someone pulls a gun on you and you have the means to shoot that person in self-defense. This would be justifiable homicide self-defense.

What if someone merely says, “I’m going to kill you?”. Would you be justified in shooting that person if you had the means to do so? It’s possible. The threat can be verbal. However, it has to put the intended victim in fear of immediate harm.

In other words, you would have to prove you feared for your life immediately.

Another example is if you were the victim of an assault. You could use a self-defense motive if you fought back with corresponding violence in the midst of that assault. However, if you used violence later – after the threat of injury had passed – the likelihood of a self-defense motive working for you in court would go down. That action looks more retaliatory than defensive.

Imperfect Self-Defense

An argument for imperfect self-defense has sometimes been used in court by defendants who either unreasonably feared harm or who provoked the argument which led to the violence that made him or her need to use self-defense.

A defendant like Janel Boer could claim she was afraid for her life. She could claim she acted violently when no imminent threat was apparent – although her injuries seem to suggest otherwise.

Or she could claim that, although she started the argument, the confrontation became violent and, since she was the weaker party, she felt her life was in danger if she didn’t use lethal force.

We don’t know Janel Boer’s story. However, if she were in a state that accepted imperfect self-defense and this was her story, she would most likely not be acquitted. However, it would reduce the severity of her sentence.

The Michigan Supreme Court does not recognize imperfect self-defense as an “independent theory that automatically mitigates criminal liability for homicide from murder to voluntary manslaughter.” It does recognize that that argument is true for some circumstances, however.

Take Away

In situations where you feel you need to defend yourself – right or not – you are most likely afraid and not taking the time to think through every implication of what you’re doing. In Janel Boer’s case, her attorney will use every piece of evidence he can to show she acted in a way any reasonable person would in her situation.

If you are facing murder charges and you know you acted in self-defense, call us right away. Having an experienced defense attorney is critical.

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