Domestic Violence vs Self-Defense: What is the Difference?

Domestic Violence vs Self-Defense: What is the Difference?

The difference between domestic violence and self-defense is often a fine line. In many cases, it can be hard to tell what actions in a dispute at home were actually necessary for your own safety and where you crossed the line to harming someone in your household. Sometimes, you need to use physical force to protect yourself, especially if the other person has already acted against you. In other cases, physical force can escalate an already-difficult situation and cause serious injury to the other party.

If you get charged with domestic violence, you need to get in touch with an attorney who can help go over the circumstances that led to those charges and whether you actually committed an act of domestic violence or if you simply acted in self-defense.

Domestic Violence: A General Definition

Domestic violence is defined as aggressive or violent actions used to harm another person, usually a member of your household. It typically includes an act of assault, including physical violence or psychological damage.

Understanding Self-Defense

An action taken in self-defense is typically used to prevent further actions of violence against you or to protect yourself. Sometimes, self-defense may include seemingly aggressive actions needed to get away from an attacker.

The Critical Difference Between Domestic Violence and Self Defense

Sometimes, domestic violence and self-defense can have very similar results: most notably, that someone gets hurt. In order to better understand the critical difference between domestic violence and self-defense, take a look at these key questions.

What was the motivation behind the action?

In a self-defense scenario, you acted to protect yourself or someone else. While you may have gone on the offensive in an effort to get out of a dangerous scenario or to protect someone else in your household, including a minor child, roommate, or spouse, your actions were intended to help reduce harm to someone else–even if the aggressor got hurt in the process. This motivation toward defense, rather than aggression, is at the heart of the difference between domestic violence and self-defense against a member of your household.

In a domestic violence scenario, on the other hand, the person committing the act will usually harm the victim out of a desire to cause pain or to force obedience. The aggressor might, for example, strike the victim out of sheer anger, or drag the victim through the house, causing serious injuries along the way. The aggressor has no motivation toward defense, but rather is motivated by anger.

Did you use more than necessary force?

In some cases, the court may look at “necessary force” in the situation to determine whether you acted in self-defense or committed an act of domestic violence. For example, if you went back to cause additional harm to the person you were fighting with after escaping the situation, rather than simply using the opportunity to get away, you may get charged with domestic violence. Likewise, if you had already disabled the attacker, but continued to apply force, including the use of deadly force, it may count as a domestic violence charge, rather than an action of self-defense. In some cases, you may be able to show that your “fight or flight” reflex kicked in and that you did not realize that you had disabled your attacker. Speak with an attorney to learn more about how to show your intent in a self-defense scenario.

Did you feel in danger?

Often, an act of self-defense may take place because you feel that you, or someone else in the household, was in considerable danger from the initial aggressor. You may have committed a violent act in an effort to reduce the immediate danger and get out of the scenario, which would count as self-defense. On the other hand, a violent act intended to force someone to comply in a non-dangerous scenario may count as an act of domestic violence. While you may act to protect someone else, including your minor children, as well as yourself, you should not commit an act of violence just because the other party did something you disagree with.

When the police arrive at the scene, they may have a hard time telling which party actually committed a direct act of aggression and which one acted in self-defense. It can prove particularly difficult to sort out when a woman directly abuses or threatens a man, who must exercise violence in order to defend and protect himself or his children. Having an attorney on your side can prove crucial during this difficult time. By working with an experienced attorney, you can receive the legal support you need as you fight a domestic violence claim and the scars it can leave on your record. Contact us today to learn more about the possible defenses for domestic violence charges, including self-defense, and how they may impact you.

Author Bio

Botnick Law Firm

Robert Botnick is CEO and Managing Partner of Botnick Law Firm, a criminal defense law firm in Cleveland, OH. With more than 19 years of experience in criminal defense, he has zealously represented clients in a wide range of legal matters, including DUIs, misdemeanors, felonies, domestic violence, and other criminal charges.

Robert received his Juris Doctor from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University and is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including the Best DUI Lawyers in Cleveland award by

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