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Can Defending Yourself From Harm Put You Behind Bars in Indiana?

Law
In Indiana, the law allows you to protect yourself, your family, your property, and your home with force. However, you can still find yourself in trouble for doing just that. If you can legally use force, how can you end up behind bars for doing so?
What Is Self Defense?
  • As a legal construct, the definition of self-defense can vary from place to place. In Indiana, a few statutes outline what constitutes self-defense. These statutes include language indicating you can:
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  • Use reasonable force to stop an imminent unlawful threat to yourself or another
  • Use deadly force if you reasonably believe someone may cause serious bodily injury to you or another
  • Use reasonable force up to deadly force to prevent unlawful entry into your home or occupied vehicle
  • Use reasonable force against someone who attempts to unlawful access your personal property
Note the regular use of the term reasonable. In Indiana, you don't have a duty to retreat. You don't have to back down or try to escape from a threat. However, you're expected to use reasonable force to deal with the threat.
The problem is, reasonable can sometimes stand open to interpretation. If your actions are extreme in comparison to the threat, you may face charges. For example, you can use deadly force if you have a reasonable belief the other person will cause you or another grievous physical harm if you don't.
What if someone approached with visibly empty hands and asked you to step out of your vehicle? Do you think that's a reasonable enough threat for you to fire a weapon? Delaware County courts may or may not see that as a reasonable use of force. It will depend on other factors involved in the scenario. 
What's considered reasonable can make all the difference if you face criminal charges for your actions.
When Is the Use of Force Illegal?
The Indiana statutes for self-defense also point out times when the use of force is illegal. You can't claim self-defense if:
  • You use force during or in connection with committing a crime
  • You provoke another person on purpose with the intent to harm them
  • You continue to use force on someone after they withdraw from the encounter
Additionally, it can severely hurt your case if the police find you with, or doing, something illegal when the encounter occurs. If there are no witnesses, the case can come down to your word against the other person's. If their narrative makes your actions look illegal, you'll have to fight that much harder to prove that you took lawful action.
What Must You Do to Prove Self Defense?
Usually, self-defense claims will have to answer the following questions satisfactorily:
  • Where were you when the altercation occurred?
  • Did you instigate or purposefully start the altercation?
  • Did the situation give you a reasonable fear of possible bodily harm or death?
  • Did you act reasonably regarding the situation?
Once you answer those questions, the opposition must disprove one or more of your answers. You can find yourself behind bars if you can't adequately prove you were justified in your use of force.
This all points to why it's important to have a criminal defense attorney on your side. Legal aid isn't only to help you defend yourself in court, although that's an important aspect of it.
Your attorney will dig into the case to help give you the best chance of succeeding. They can help find witnesses and take their depositions, as well as investigate the claims of the other party.
You have a right to protect your property, family, home, and yourself. If you face charges for doing so, then you need help immediately. Don't attempt to defend yourself or your actions without first contacting Ronald K. Smith, Attorney at Law.