Self Defense - Applies to Any Offense Against a Defendant

Self-defense is one of the common affirmative defenses raised in the criminal justice system. As previously discussed in this blog, it permits a defendant to use force in order to prevent harm against them. That is typically how it is thought of – you can use reasonable force when force is used upon you. But, a recent court of appeals decision expanded the scope of this defense.

In State v. Lampkin, the defendant raised an unique argument that he was permitted to use reasonable force to fend off a non-violent offense against him. In the case, the defendant’s girlfriend was preventing him from leaving their apartment during an argument. He physically moved her out of the way to leave, which led to a domestic assault charge against him. Arguably, preventing the defendant from leaving could be false imprisonment. So, the defendant argued that he should be entitled to a self-defense instruction because the statute’s plain language permits reasonable force when a defendant “reasonably believes that he is ‘resisting … an offense against the person.'” Succinctly, the plain language only requires “an offense” against the defendant, not pending or actual harm to him, in order to raise self-defense.

The Court of Appeals agreed. The plain language was rather straightforward. An offense against the defendant is all that is necessary. A possibility of actual or pending harm against him is not. So, by the plain language, the Lampkin defendant was entitled to a self-defense instruction to this effect. As a result, the self-defense jury instruction that specified it must be against an offense involving bodily harm to the defendant was in error.

In so holding, the Court went to great pains to explain that prior precedential history that had previously incorporated a physical harm component were based upon the facts of those cases involving alleged violent offenses against the defendant. In fact, because of this, the model jury instruction on self defense that the courts have routinely used defined “offense against the person” as an offense of a physical nature with the potential to cause bodily harm.

This court of appeals decision is in the process of being reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The decision date is unknown at this point, but this blog will be updated to reflect the final decision by the Supreme Court.

In the interim, this decision has given greater leeway to defendants to raise self defense as an affirmative defense at trial. Having an experience Minnesota criminal defense attorney by your side, fighting for you, and knowing the intricacies of the law and updates can be the difference between a jury finding you guilty versus not guilty.