Imperfect self-defense

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Imperfect self-defense is a common law doctrine recognized by some jurisdictions whereby a defendant may mitigate punishment or sentencing imposed for a crime involving the use of deadly force by claiming, as a partial affirmative defense, the honest but unreasonable belief that the actions were necessary to counter an attack. Not all jurisdictions accept imperfect self-defense as a basis to reduce a murder charge.[1]

  • Self-defense: A perfect argument of self-defense proves all elements of self-defense, and results in the defendant's acquittal. If a defendant proves imperfect self-defense, the defendant will be convicted of a lesser homicide charge, such as voluntary manslaughter.[1]
  • Imperfect self-defense: The concept of imperfect self-defense is that, although not all elements of self-defense were proved, extenuating circumstances nonetheless partially excuse the act that caused death.[2]


The doctrine of imperfect self-defense has been defined as "an intentional killing committed with an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances justified deadly force".[3] Thus, if a person had a good faith belief that deadly force was necessary to repel an attack, but the person's belief was unreasonable, that person would be able to raise imperfect self-defense as a defense to a murder charge.[1]

A court in Maryland, held that:

When evidence is presented showing the defendant’s subjective belief that the use of force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm, the defendant is entitled to a proper instruction on imperfect self defense....The theory underlying the doctrine is that when a defendant uses deadly force with an honest but unreasonable belief that it is necessary to defend himself, the element of malice, necessary for a murder conviction, is lacking.

State v. Faulkner, 483 A.2d 759, 769 (Md. 1984).[4]

Michigan recognizes imperfect self-defense as a qualified defense that may mitigate second-degree murder to voluntary manslaughter.[5] However, the doctrine can only be used where the defendant would have had a right to self-defense but for the fact that the defendant was the initial aggressor.[6]

In the U.S. state of California a defendant can be convicted of manslaughter but not murder when imperfect self-defense is successfully proved.[7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c West's Encyclopedia of American Law, Volume 9. West. 1998. ISBN 9780314201669. Retrieved 10 September 2017. (Self-Defense).
  2. ^ Larson, Aaron (7 October 2016). "What Are Homicide and Murder". ExpertLaw. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  3. ^ "State v. Jones, 8 P. 3d 1282, 27 Kan. App. 2d 910 (2000)". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  4. ^ "State v. Faulkner, 483 A.2d 759, 769, 301 Md. 482 (Md. 1984)". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Clemency Manual, Appendix 8: Michigan Standard Jury Instructions". Michigan Women's Justice & Clemency Project. University of Michigan Law School. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  6. ^ "People v. Deason, 148 Mich. App. 27, 31, 384 N.W.2d 72 (1985)". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  7. ^ "People v. Humphrey 13 Cal. 4th 1073, 921 P. 2d 1 (1996)". Google Scholar. Google. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  8. ^ Grumer, Janet (2003). "IX. Self-Defense". Loyola Law Review. 36: 1575. Retrieved 10 September 2017.