Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"BUT I DIDN'T START IT!": THE ILLINOIS LAW ON SELF-DEFENSE

He just came at you.

To protect yourself, you pulled out a knife or maybe a gun. He turned to run away. Pumped with adrenalin, you couldn’t stop yourself from going after him. Now, he’s in the hospital, and you’re charged with an aggravated battery. Can you claim self-defense?

Under Illinois law, you may use force against an aggressor when you reasonably believe it is necessary to defend yourself or another. You may use deadly force if you reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to yourself or another, or that such force is necessary to prevent a forcible felony such as a burglary.

However, you can go too far. You may not become the aggressor. If the person who attacked you withdraws from physical contact and indicates they want to stop fighting, you can’t keep going. Once they’re lying on the ground, you can’t keep beating them. When self-defense crosses the line to retaliation, you become the aggressor. Self-defense is also not a defense when the aggression is mutual.

And despite what you may have heard in some news stories, you may not sue someone for injuries where they acted in self-defense unless their conduct was willful and wanton. Thus, the stories about the burglar suing the homeowner for shooting him are unlikely to occur in Illinois.

If you are charged with a battery or other violent crime but believe you acted in self-defense, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. Do not try to justify yourself to the police or discuss your offense with third parties. What you think is a reasonable explanation may give the police the evidence needed to convict you. You may unintentionally come across as self-serving or self-pitying. Instead, an experienced attorney can present evidence of self-defense on your behalf in its best possible light.

If you have questions about this or another related criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

For more information see 720 ILCS 5/7-1.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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