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No one (or at least anyone in their right mind) goes around looking for a fight.
But sometimes, whether you're looking for it a not, a physical confrontation may find you. If you find yourself the victim of an assault, what can you do to defend yourself without also potentially being charged with a crime?
Is it legal to fight back if someone punches you first?
Use of force that would otherwise be criminal in nature may be excused if it was done in self defense. Though the specific rules for self defense vary from state to state, generally, a person under an imminent threat of physical violence can act to prevent being harmed.
In a physical confrontation, self defense typically allows a person who reasonably believes he is about to be hit to defend himself. However, if you've already been hit, and the person who hit you indicates by words or actions that he is not going to hit you again, self defense generally does not allow you to hit that person back. Self defense may only be invoked to prevent further harm, not to retaliate against a person who has already harmed you.
Self defense also only allows for a proportional response. This means that if someone hits you with his fist, you may not necessarily be justified in pulling out a gun and shooting him.
Generally, deadly force may only be used in circumstances in which the person using deadly force has a reasonable fear of losing his or her life. In some states, a person may also be required to attempt to retreat before using deadly force. In other states, however, so-called Stand Your Ground laws may allow a person to defend himself by using lethal force without having to attempt to retreat.
To learn more about self defense and criminal charges, check out FindLaw's section on Criminal Law Basics or consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.