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What factors are considered in self-defence claims?

When a physical altercation between two individuals results in injury, someone is likely to be arrested if police are called to the scene. However, not everyone charged with assault is guilty, and determination of whether an act was an assault requires consideration of a variety of factors.

For example, defence of person is one kind of criminal defence that can result in a verdict of not guilty. Under the Canadian Criminal Code, a defendant is not guilty of assault if the following can be shown in court:

  • The defendant reasonably believed that force was being used against him or her, or a threat of force was made against him or her.
  • The defendant acted in order to defend or protect him- or herself.
  • The defendant's action was reasonable, given the circumstances.

A claim of self-defence may also be appropriate if the defendant was forced to protect someone else.

The Criminal Code specifies a variety of factors to be considered in cases involving allegations of violent crime. Depending on the circumstances of the alleged offence, those factors may include the following:

  • The nature of the force used against the defendant
  • Whether the defendant had options other than a reciprocal use of force
  • Whether a weapon was used or someone threatened to use a weapon
  • The prior relationship, if any, between the defendant and the other party
  • The size and other factual and physical characteristics of the defendant and the other party

A full list of these considerations can be found under the Defence of Person section of the Criminal Code.

To learn more about developing a comprehensive defence strategy, individuals accused of a violent crime should speak with a criminal defence lawyer.

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