Criminal Defense Lawyers
If you have been charged with a crime and believe you acted in self-defense, George Law’s team of experienced criminal defense lawyers is ready to help you. We’ll discuss whether any self-defense claims and exceptions apply to your case, and get to work defending you.
Presumption Of Innocence
You have likely heard the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” If you have been charged with a crime, developing your case with those words front and center will hold the prosecution to its burden of proof.
Defendants are presumed innocent until their guilt is proven. The presumption of innocence is not directly mentioned in the United States Constitution or Michigan’s state constitution. However, “due process” is part of the United States Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which applies to all states. Due process is the procedure that the government must follow before they can take away your freedoms, including your life, liberty, and property. Throughout many decades, court cases and laws have made the presumption of innocence a core part of a fair trial.
A prosecutor, an attorney who typically works for and represents a county, city, or state government, is responsible for charging defendants with crimes. Because the prosecutor, on behalf of the governmental body, is accusing the defendant of a crime, the prosecutor must prove to a jury that a defendant committed the crime. This burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a very high standard. To find a defendant guilty, the jury must believe that no other reasonable explanation exists for the crime other than the evidence provided by the prosecution. In Michigan, misdemeanor offenses require a jury of six, while felony offenses require twelve jurors. Regardless of the crime, all jurors must agree to a guilty or not guilty verdict in a criminal trial.
Defense’s Responsibilities And Affirmative Defenses
Unlike prosecutors’ burden of proof, a defense attorney does not have to prove that their clients, the defendants, are innocent. Technically, defendants can attend a trial without presenting evidence or witnesses of any kind. In practice, defendants often present evidence or have witnesses testify to their character, their whereabouts on the day of the offense, or other details that poke or find holes in the prosecution’s case. A defendant’s goal in this situation is to show a jury that the prosecution cannot meet its burden of proof. A defendant with a strong case could be acquitted of the crime.
Sometimes, however, it could be obvious that a defendant did commit unlawful behavior. In these situations, a defendant will not deny that their actions led to an undesirable outcome. Instead, the defendant admits to the behavior but provides a reason why it happened. In these cases, a defendant could offer an affirmative defense, where a defendant presents facts that could defeat or lessen the consequences of unlawful behavior.
One kind of affirmative defense is self-defense, which is a reasonable use of force to prevent another person from causing injury to the defendant. In the high-profile case involving Kyle Rittenhouse, the defense attorneys did not try to disprove the fact that their client killed multiple people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Instead, the attorneys convinced the jurors that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Finding Rittenhouse not guilty, the jurors excused Rittenhouse of criminal liability for the consequences of his actions.
Guarding Your Home And Standing Your Ground
In Michigan, self-defense claims can arise from the use of deadly or non-deadly force in private and public locations. Experienced criminal defense attorneys understand the complex and careful planning required for effective self-defense claims.
The Castle Doctrine is an older phrase that is now part of the Self Defense Act in Michigan. Aptly named, a “castle” often refers to your home where you reasonably expect to feel safe. Under Michigan law, there is a rebuttable presumption that you can use non-deadly force, or even deadly force, on an intruder when you have an honest and reasonable belief that it is imminent that you or another person will be killed, sexually assaulted, or suffer a severe injury if:
- The intruder is in the process of breaking and entering your dwelling, business premises, or committing a home invasion OR the intruder is attempting to remove a person from a dwelling, business premises, or occupied vehicle, AND
- You honestly and reasonably believe that the intruder is or is about to engage in breaking and entering or removing someone against their will.
The law also applies if an intruder has already broken and entered and is still present in the dwelling or business premises.
In a few words, the Castle Doctrine means that if you kill or injure an intruder as the law provides, it is presumed that you acted in self-defense. You, the defendant, would have the burden to produce enough evidence that the Castle Doctrine applies to your case. Evidence might include the intruder’s location in relation to you in the dwelling or home. If the prosecution believes you did not act in self-defense, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt at least one of the following:
- Your belief about the intruder’s intended crime was not honest or reasonable;
- Your belief that an intruder was about to break and enter or remove someone from a residence or vehicle against their will was not honest or reasonable.
Although the castle doctrine can be a very useful defense, there are several exceptions. More notable ones include:
- You cannot use the dwelling, business premises, or vehicle as locations to commit crimes, and you cannot also be committing a crime as the events unfold.
- The defense cannot be used where peace officers who attempted to enter the dwelling, business premises, or vehicle did so in the performance of their official duties.
- The defense cannot be used against a person having a legal right to the dwelling, business premises, or vehicle, including an owner, titleholder, or individual leasing the property from you.
If one of the above exceptions applies to your case, there is no rebuttable presumption that force used was in self-defense, and the castle doctrine is unlikely to apply.
Stand Your Ground
Michigan has another self-defense claim, often called “Stand Your Ground.” Sometimes this claim can be used if the castle doctrine does not apply or if you are out in a public space. In this claim, there is no duty to retreat to a different location to prevent the other person’s death. You may use deadly force if you have an honest and reasonable belief that deadly force is needed to prevent imminent:
- Death or severe injury to you or another person, or
- Sexual assault to you or another person.
You may also use non-deadly force if you honestly and reasonably believe that the force is required to protect yourself or another person from imminent force, such as an injury. Whether non-deadly or deadly force is used, you must be in a place you have a legal right to be, and you cannot be committing a crime at the time force is used. Unlike the Castle Doctrine, Stand Your Ground does not have a lengthy list of exceptions other than the two mentioned here. Additionally, Stand Your Ground does not create a rebuttable presumption that you used self-defense. Instead, you, the defendant, have a burden to produce enough evidence to show that self-defense is a reasonable claim to pursue at trial. Once you have established a claim, the prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you (1) committed the crime, and you (2) did not act in self-defense.
Michigan Self Defense Lawyer
Getting charged with a crime in Michigan can lead to harsh outcomes, including long-term prison sentences and substantial fines. For this reason, you should hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to help you develop a sound strategy. They can make your case of self-defense clear and weaken the prosecution’s theory of your guilt. George Law is both skilled and experienced at representing those accused in Michigan. We are here for you and will work tirelessly to help you get the best result possible. Reach out to George Law today by calling (248) 470-4300 or contacting us online.