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A common question people ask is when to use physical force in self-defense. Knowing self-defense law is the best way a person can protect themselves, physically and legally. In a legal situation, it is important to know the limitations in using self-defense. Obviously, the primary goal of self-defense is to defend oneself against a reasonable and imminent threat or attack from an aggressor. A.R.S. 13-404 defines the justification defense use of physical force. As long as one is reasonably protecting themselves, there should be no issues. However, situations starting out as self-defense but escalating into going too far are generally where the intercession with the criminal justice system occurs.

Use of “Physical Force” in Self-Defense Defined in A.R.S. 13-404

According to A.R.S. 13-404(A), a person is justified in threatening or using physical force when circumstances reasonably allow it. And, if a reasonable person believes physical force is immediately necessary against another’s use or attempted use of unlawful force. This situation is not generally a difficult circumstance to understand. A reasonable person using physical force to combat attempted use or use of unlawful physical force seems pretty basic and easy to understand. Justifying behavior through a “reasonable person” standard becomes more difficult when a situation starts out as self-defense but escalates. For instance, a person protecting himself beats the aggressor to the point of serious physical injury. A person may only use force to the extent it dispels the danger. A person going from victim to aggressor does not give that person license to do whatever they desire.

When is the Use of Physical Force Not Justified?

Pursuant to A.R.S. 13-404(B), the threat or use of physical force is not justified in the following situations:

  1. In response to verbal provocation; or
  2. To resist an arrest the person should know is made by a peace officer whether the arrest is lawful or not, unless the physical force used by the peace officer exceeds that allowed by law; or
  3. If the person provoked the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force, UNLESS: (A) the person withdraws from the encounter or clearly communicates intent believing he cannot safely withdraw; AND (B) the other nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful physical force against the person.

Specifically, a person is not justified in using physical force or acting in self-defense in these scenarios. It is important to note that self-defense (and most concepts in the law) are based on a “reasonable person” standard.

Physical Force is Not Justified in Response to Verbal Provocation

Words alone are not adequate provocation for use of physical force. It does not matter how much a person offends another, unless there is some threat or act of physical force, words are never adequate provocation. Rather, a “reasonable” person must believe physical force is immediately necessary. But, can’t another’s imminent threats support a belief that physical force is necessary? Indeed it can. However, as the statute clearly states, physical force is not justified “[i]n response to verbal provocation alone.” On the contrary, if threatening words accompany movements that could be construed as causing imminent harm, a person is justified in using physical force. But it is important to note, words alone are not adequate provocation to justify use of physical force.

Physical Force is Not Justified to Resist a Lawful Arrest

A person is not justified in using physical force to resist an arrest made by a peace officer, regardless of whether it is a lawful arrest. This concept seems fairly easy. However, there are many citizens who believe they should fight an arrest they do not deem lawful. It is always the better practice to fight a case from the courtroom rather than on the street with the police. Police may be justified due to circumstances they are aware of. And a person generally does themself no favors attempting to physically fight the police. However, as A.R.S. 13-404(B)(2) indicates, physical force would be justified if a peace officer exceeds the amount of force allowed by law.

One Cannot Provoke and Then Act With Justification, Unless….

A person cannot use physical force against another if the person provoked the other’s use of physical force. However, an exception exists IF: (1) the person withdraws from the encounter or clearly communicates intent to; AND (2) the other nevertheless continues or attempts to use unlawful physical force against the person. Simply put, a person cannot instigate/provoke another person into using physical force, and then assert self-defense. However, a different situation arises if a person provokes another but then withdraws and clearly communicates intent to withdraw. Here, if one withdraws but the other continues, the withdrawing person may use physical force in self-defense.

Use of Physical Force as Justification is Affirmative Defense

Self-Defense through use of physical force is an affirmative defense. This means the defense will provide notice to the State prior to trial of this defense. It also means the defense must produce some evidence of the defense, also known as the “burden of persuasion.” This is different than the “burden of proof”, which rests with the State. Indeed, the defense must raise the affirmative defense (burden of persuasion). After that, the burden is on the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant was not acting in self-defense.

Huss Law, PLLC as your Justification Defense Attorney

Self-Defense, Justification, Legal Use of Physical Force, Stand Your Ground…Regardless of terminology, it is important to note a person has a right to protect themselves in self-defense by using physical force. One should not go looking for a fight, but always be cognizant of how quickly things may happen and escalate. Any person who is under investigation or charges for an assault or disorderly conduct should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Not only will this put a person’s mind at ease, but may also provide some avenues of opportunity. Jeremy L. Huss of Huss Law, PLLC has 20 plus years of Arizona criminal law experience. Mr. Huss spent nearly 13 years in an Arizona Prosecutor’s office handling major felony crimes. He has the experience and knowledge to analyze and examine different scenarios where use of physical force may be justified. Call Huss Law Today for a Free Consultation!

Justified Use of Physical Force in Self-Defense in Arizona

Categories:: Criminal Defense, General, Police Procedure