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Self-defense – Minnesota Overview

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Self-defense of self, others or property, is an example of an affirmative defense.  From ancient times, laws recognize the right to self-defense as a basic human right. And here Self-Defense Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher presents an overview of Minnesota self-defense law.

Common Law acknowledged this right.  And Minnesota self-defense statutes incorporate the common law and natural rights to self-defense. See, Minnesota Statutes Section 609.06.

So let’s consider a hypothetical.

You drive to the store to buy some items.  But in the parking lot, a man you do not know begins to yell at you about money you supposedly owe.  The man violently assaults you.  And you notice he is pulling out a knife.  So, fearing for your life, you resist the attack and end up killing him.  The government charges you with murder.  But at the trial, your Minnesota self-defense attorney questions witnesses about what they saw and heard of the brief assault.  The jury has reasonable doubt about the prosecution story of a murder to prevent collection of a debt.  And the jury agrees with self-defense.  The force used by you was reasonable under the circumstances of the attempted robbery.  So the verdict is “Not-guilty.”

Reasonable, necessary force in response to the apparent threat

You can help yourself, and your self-defense attorney, by knowing the law.

In Minnesota, a person acts in self-defense when she reasonably believes force is necessary; and uses only the level of force reasonably necessary to prevent the bodily harm feared.  State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. 2001).

And Minnesota Statutes § 609.06, subd. 1 (3) codifies the right to self-defense.  So, reasonable force is lawful, “without the other’s consent,” “when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person.” Minn.Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(3).

Four elements of the defense appear in Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1 (3):

Minnesota self-defense law

(1) the absence of aggression or provocation on the part of the defendant;
(2) the defendant’s actual and honest belief that he or she was in imminent danger of … bodily harm;
(3) the existence of reasonable grounds for that belief; and
(4) the absence of a reasonable possibility of retreat to avoid the danger.

State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 285-86 (Minn.1997).

Affirmative Defense vs. Burden of Proof

An affirmative defense involves two parts.  First, you and your self-defense attorney must meet “the burden of going forward” with evidence to support self-defense.  And after that, the State must attempt to meet its burden to disprove, beyond a reasonable doubt, self-defense.

But most defenses to criminal charges are not affirmative defenses.

Duty to Retreat If Outside the Home

Outside the home, Minnesota’s self-defense law includes a “duty to retreat.”  So a person facing a threat of bodily harm has a duty to retreat where practical; before responding with “reasonable force.”  But a sudden attack can make retreat dangerous, by increasing the risk of bodily harm.

In order to protect you, your loved ones, or your property; sometimes there is no real alternative to reasonable force in self-defense.  But, the law of self-defense requires any use of force to be reasonable under the circumstances; even where there is no legal duty to retreat.

Reasonable Force

What is “reasonable force?”  Thousands of court cases discuss this, in many facts patterns.  But the level of force must be proportionate to the reasonable perception of threat level at that time.

But your self-defense attorney must help the jury understand the law.

The law places the focus on the perspective of the accused only.  But the situation as perceived by the accused must have been reasonable under the circumstances at that time. 

The problem: People seem to want to second-guess the past actions of others, from the comfort of their safety.

The law reminds us to adopt the point-of-view of the defendant.  So the question is: “was the defendant’s perception and response, reasonable under the circumstances he knew at the time?” 

But often, important information learned later by police or others, was unknown to the defendant at the time.

Police and Self-Defense Training | Self-Defense Attorney

When using force in self-defense, training teaches the use of force to stop the threat.   Our intent using force in self-defense, is not to kill or injure.  Rather it is to stop the threat.  Then stop the use of force. 

So when injury or death is the result of the lawful self-defense; it is not the specific intent of the person acting in self-defense.

We train our police officers to shoot the center of mass when shooting in self-defense; continuously until the threat stops; and to shoot a person armed with a knife within striking distance.  (See, the Tueller Drill.) 

Training for all who use a firearm in self-defense is the same.  Stop the threat.  Then stop.

And you benefit when your self-defense attorney has self-defense training. In addition, expert witnesses on self-defense can help the jury understand.

Deadly force

Deadly force is reasonable force depending upon the reasonably perceived threat.  But no one wants to end up in a case where a jury has to decide “was it reasonable?” given the threat presented at the time.

And yet, even deadly force is reasonable and lawful:

“when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.”

Minnesota Statutes 609.065.

No duty to retreat in the home – Castle Doctrine

The surviving self-defender has a duty to retreat in Minnesota self-defense law when not at home. And this is a crucial distinction for every self-defense attorney.

there’s no place like home

If reasonably possible, a person must retreat before acting in self-defense.  This is the general rule in Minnesota. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d at 399.  Nowhere is safer to go than home.  So if a person is outside her home, and can safely retreat; then the person’s use of force is unreasonable.

But an exception is the so-called “Castle Doctrine.”

So, a person need not retreat from his home before acting in self-defense. State v. Johnson, 719 N.W.2d 619, 622, 629 (Minn.2006).

The home is “a place critical for the protection of the family.” State v. Carothers, 594 N.W.2d 897, 900 (Minn.1999).  So, one’s home is a sanctuary. 

“Requiring retreat from the home before acting in self-defense would require one to leave one’s safest place.” Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d at 401.

And some court cases define the boundaries of the home where there is no duty to retreat.  In one case the court considered an apartment hallway.  State v. Devens, 852 N.W.2d 255 (Minn. 2014).

But your self-defense attorney must know this law.

When Available

The self-defense defense can apply in any case where the facts show that the defendant acted in self-defense. So, this includes many murder and assault cases.

And self-defense can also be a defense in a disorderly conduct case.

More In-Depth – Self-Defense Attorney

Thomas Gallagher, Self-Defense Attorney
Thomas Gallagher, Self-Defense Attorney

Self-Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher’s blog has several in-depth articles on self-defense in Minnesota as well. And check out our other self-defense page on this site: Minnesota self-defense laws.

Do you have a question about self-defense or a Minnesota assault defense case?  You can now call Self-Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500