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Can You Be Charged with Murder for Self-Defense?

Published in Criminal Law by Chris Eskew on September 16, 2022.

Murder for Self-defense

The right to self-defense is as old as time. However, the law is not as clear-cut as one might hope. The truth is you can still be charged with murder for self-defense. Not only can you be charged with murder, but you can be charged with other crimes such as manslaughter. However, being accused of a crime does not automatically mean you are guilty. 

If you had to use deadly force to defend yourself, you would undoubtedly be shaken up and scared. The vast majority of individuals that injure or kill someone while defending themselves have never been in trouble with the law before. But even though it may have never been your intent to cause harm and you were only trying to protect yourself or your family, you may find yourself in a tricky spot. 

At some point, you might be questioned by the police or state’s attorney. Do not go into this questioning alone—always ask to have a lawyer present. You might think that you did nothing wrong, so you don’t need a lawyer. This is incorrect! Police know how to trip you up and make you say things that seem innocent but end up incriminating you. Don’t fall for their trap of “trying to help you.” It is always best to have counsel present with you when answering law enforcement questions. At Eskew Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorneys interact with law enforcement daily. From our years of experience, we know what you should and should not do in a police interview. Contact us immediately to guide you!

What Is Murder?

In Indiana, murder is defined as:

  • Knowingly or intentionally killing another human being; 
  • Killing another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, child molesting, kidnapping, rape, robbery, human trafficking, and other felonies as defined by law; or
  • Killing another human being while committing or attempting to commit drug-related offenses such as dealing in or manufacturing cocaine or a narcotic drug.

The penalty for murder can be 45 to 65 years of incarceration, life in prison without parole, and even death. It is the most severe offense in the eyes of the law. 

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when someone knowingly or intentionally kills another human being while acting under the sudden heat of passion. It is classified as a level 2 felony. 

Perhaps the most famous example of voluntary manslaughter is the cheating spouse scenario. Suppose Jane walks in on her spouse and catches him in the act of cheating and becomes enraged. If Jane kills her cheating spouse or his lover while enraged by this sight, this is a classic example of killing in the sudden heat of passion.

Involuntary Manslaughter 

Under Indiana law, a person commits involuntary manslaughter if they kill someone else while attempting to commit or while committing:

  • A Level 5 or Level 6 felony, posing an inherent risk of severe bodily injury;
  • Battery; or
  • A Class A misdemeanor, posing an inherent risk of severe physical harm.

When discussing your claim for self-defense, it is essential to understand the difference between murder and manslaughter. To gain a better understanding of your charges and defense, contact Eskew Law, LLC. 

Indiana Self-Defense Law 

In Indiana, an individual is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect themselves or another from what they reasonably believe to be the imminent use of force. 

An individual may be justified in using deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if they reasonably believe that lethal force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to themselves or another. 

With the use of the word “reasonable” and “reasonably believes,” the legislature intended for the statute to be subjective to the individual. In other words, any cases of self-defense killings will be highly fact sensitive. Having a knowledgeable and seasoned criminal defense attorney is crucial in properly asserting the facts necessary to show you reasonably believed you were in fear of serious injury or death.

Proving Death by Self-Defense

To prove self-defense, you generally must prove three elements:

  • You were in a place you had a right to be in (i.e., you were not trespassing, etc.);
  • You did not provoke, instigate, or willingly participate in the violent altercation; and
  • You had reason to fear imminent serious bodily injury or death.

Additionally, Indiana law has held that the right to self-defense only lasts for the duration of the immediate threat. For example, suppose an intruder comes into your home, and a violent altercation ensues. During the altercation, the intruder flees and runs down the street. You cannot chase the subject down the road to catch them and use deadly force because, at that point, the immediate danger to your life is no longer present. Once the imminent threat passes, the defense is no longer valid.

Stand Your Ground Law

Indiana is one of several states that has what is known as a Stand Your Ground doctrine. You may be wondering how such laws differ from self-defense. The critical difference lies in the duty to retreat. 

Traditionally, self-defense laws provided that a person is only justified in taking another’s life if they could not have avoided using lethal force. In other words, if an individual could avoid using deadly force by retreating or stepping away, then they must do so. If they fail to retreat when they can, the killing is not justified. 

However, Stand Your Ground laws remove this traditional retreat requirement. Instead, these laws allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense even if they could have safely retreated. 

It is important to note that the long-standing Castle Doctrine provides that a person does not have a duty to retreat from confrontation before using force while in their home. The Castle Doctrine stems from thousands of years of having the right to defend your home and your family. 

Successfully asserting a self-defense claim requires precision and expertise. At Eskew Law, LLC, we have the understanding and ability to carefully craft a rock-solid self-defense argument for you. 

Call Us Today!

Little is more important than your safety and your family’s well-being. If you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of having to use self-defense and are now worried about facing murder charges, you need a strong and experienced advocate. At our first consultation, we will get to work getting to know you, listening to your story, and building a defense tailored to you. Our goal is to keep you out of prison and able to go about living your life with your family. Contact us through our website or by phone to get started right away.

Author Photo
Chris Eskew

Chris Eskew is the founding partner of Eskew Law LLC. With over 15 years of experience, he focuses his practice on criminal defense, DUI defense, and family law. Chris is known for his dedication to his clients, his strong advocacy skills, and his commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes in legal matters. He is well-respected within the legal community and has earned a reputation for providing personalized and effective representation.


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