“Stand Your Ground” has become a clarion call around the nation for lawmakers who have expanded rights for people to defend themselves against threats or perceived threats. Arizona is among 27 states that have enacted laws that allow citizens to use force, including lethal, against someone they believe is about to inflict serious harm or death. But the conditions that let you physically fight back against someone, or even kill them, are complex and fraught with potential danger.

Arizona law says civilians can use deadly force if you are defending your house or vehicle from an intruder. You also can intervene and sometimes kill to thwart a murder, rape or armed robbery. If you are charged in connection with an incident and claim self-defense, the prosecutor has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not justified to use deadly force.

Justifying lethal force

Timing and proportion are critical when claiming self-defense. To take preemptive action, the harm must be possible within a matter of seconds. Attacking someone because they threaten to hurt you next week does not present an imminent danger. If someone punches you in the stomach, the law does not allow you to pull out a knife and stab the instigator in the gut.

The unjustified physical force also includes situations where you have:

  • Only responded to verbal threats
  • Resisted arrest by a law enforcement officer
  • Killed or injured an innocent bystander through recklessness
  • Provoked the confrontation. Unless you retreated, told the other person you had finished fighting, and they continued using physical force.

Context also matters. Prosecutors are going to scrutinize all the facts and seek corroboration in a deadly clash. And a defense attorney can challenge that evidence. Who instigated it? Where did it occur? Were there witnesses? Did alcohol or drugs affect the judgment or inhibitions of the combatants? Was the fight over at any point?

Parse the facts

Generally speaking, standing your ground means you do not have to retreat from a threat. Still, using lethal force should always be a last resort to protect yourself or someone else in danger. It usually is best to call the police and let the professionals handle an emergency.

But if you draw a line in the sand and end up facing criminal charges because you used physical or lethal force, some circumstances can justify your actions. An experienced criminal defense attorney can parse the unique facts and appreciate the nuances of every distinctive case.