Assault or self defense? Cop car with flashing lights
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By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

In the busy streets and neighborhoods of New York, understanding the boundaries of personal safety and the law is paramount. The distinction between self-defense and assault can sometimes become blurred, especially in tense, rapidly evolving situations. If you’re facing assault charges, the stakes are high, and the consequences can be severe. It is imperative to contact an assault defense attorney as soon as possible.

What is Self-Defense?

Self-defense refers to the right of an individual to use reasonable force to protect oneself, another person, or one’s property from imminent harm or danger. It operates under the premise that, in certain situations, an individual may be justified in using force against another to prevent physical harm or unlawful force.

New York law recognizes the “Justification” defense, wherein a person may use physical force upon another person when, and to the extent, they reasonably believe it to be necessary to defend themselves or another person from the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by the other person. It is, however, essential to understand that the force used in defense must be proportionate to the threat faced.

What is Assault?

In New York, assault is generally defined as the intentional causing of physical injury to another person. The state categorizes assault into varying degrees based on the severity of the injury, the intent of the perpetrator, and the means used to inflict harm. First-degree assault, for instance, involves causing serious physical injury with a deadly weapon or with the intent to cause serious injury. Meanwhile, third-degree assault, a lesser charge, involves recklessly or intentionally causing minor physical injury.

What is the Difference Between Self-Defense and Assault?

The primary difference between self-defense and assault lies in the justification for the act. While assault focuses on the intentional infliction of injury on another, self-defense revolves around the use of force as a protective reaction against a perceived or actual threat.

In essence, an act that might ordinarily be classified as an assault (such as punching someone) could be deemed legally justified if done in self-defense. However, the force used in self-defense must be reasonable and proportional to the threat faced. Excessive force or retaliatory violence after the threat has passed may still result in assault charges.

In What Circumstances Can Self-Defense Be Justified in New York?

In New York state’s Penal Law, specifically under Article 35 – “Defense of Justification.”, establishes specific circumstances under which self-defense can be justified:

  1. Imminent Threat: There must be an immediate and imminent threat of physical harm or unlawful force against you or another person.
  2. Reasonable Belief: The person must have a genuine and reasonable belief that force is necessary to counteract the threat.
  3. Proportional Response: The force used in defense should not exceed what’s reasonably necessary to counter the threat. Deadly force is only justified when faced with the risk of grave physical harm or death.
  4. No Aggressor Privilege: If you were the initial aggressor or provocateur in the situation, you may not claim self-defense unless you’ve withdrawn from the conflict and communicated this withdrawal to the other party.

What to Do If You’re Charged with Assault?

  1. Remain Silent: After an arrest, it’s crucial to exercise your right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court.
  2. Seek Legal Counsel: Before speaking to law enforcement, request a criminal defense lawyer like Michael A. Arbeit. Attorneys can provide guidance and ensure your rights are protected.
  3. Document Everything: Recall and document all details of the incident while they are fresh in your mind. This includes potential witnesses, the sequence of events, and any evidence that might support your case.
  4. Avoid Discussing Your Case: Do not discuss details with anyone except your attorney, as these discussions may become part of the court record.

Role of a New York Defense Attorney

A defense attorney plays a crucial role in navigating the complexities of assault and self-defense cases. They can:

  • Analyze Evidence: Assess the evidence, police reports, and witness statements for inconsistencies or errors.
  • Strategize a Defense: Determine if self-defense, alibi, or any other defenses are viable based on the facts of the case.
  • Negotiate with Prosecution: In some cases, they may negotiate for reduced charges or alternative sentencing.
  • Represent in Court: Should the case go to trial, they will represent and advocate for you, aiming for the best possible outcome.

Contact Our New York Criminal Defense Attorney

If you’ve been charged with assault but believe your actions were justified in self-defense, it’s imperative to seek experienced legal representation immediately. Navigating the intricacies of New York’s legal system can be challenging, but with the right attorney by your side, you stand the best chance of presenting a robust defense. Contact us today to discuss your case and explore your legal options.

Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. assists clients with assault charges throughout Nassau County, Suffolk County, and New York City, including Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, and The Bronx.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).