Craig, CO asked in Personal Injury and Domestic Violence for Colorado

Q: Can my best friend get in trouble for self defense?

My best friend who is a male, got beat by his now ex girlfriend. She hit him several times breaking skin around his eye, so he slapped her, threw her on the bed, and put her in a headlock to try to get her to stop. There are no marks on her that I know of but he has a cut under his eye and a black eye from her. We have messages from the ex to my mom saying that she hit him first 4-5 times before he did what he did. If this is reported to the police, will my best friend get in trouble with the law for what he did to stop her or just her?

1 Lawyer Answer
Thomas Cantley
Thomas Cantley
  • Domestic Violence Lawyer
  • Denver, CO
  • Licensed in Colorado

A: Maybe.

The physical force used by your friend on his ex girlfriend would qualify as misdemeanor third degree assault, and possibly felony second degree assault for the pressure applied to the neck in the headlock. However, conduct that may qualify as assault (or even homicide) can be entirely justified as self-defense depending on the circumstances. Evidence that your friend was not the initial aggressor is important, but it doesn't foreclose the possibility of charges.

The answer to your question depends on practical realities which are impossible to predict with certainty. Who will report it to the police? How will the person characterize the incident to the police? What police department will it be reported to, and which officers will be involved in the investigation? Will the police believe all or just some of what is reported to them? Will the police do further investigation, and what will their investigation reveal? Or, will the police take what is reported to them at face value? All of these things factor into whether law enforcement will try to bring charges. What you describe could certainly result in criminal charges, but law enforcement does not always get it right. And, law enforcement does not ultimately decide whether your friend is guilty. Your friend would have the right to plead not guilty and request a trial if he were charged.

Self-defense is a complex area of law, and the conduct you describe could result in a criminal charge. Your friend, the ex girlfriend, or both of them could be charged. Your friend should contact a criminal defense attorney if he is worried that law enforcement will be investigating the incident. Your friend should also not talk to anyone about the incident other than an attorney.

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