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Self-Defense and Justifiable use of Force Laws in Illinois

Definition of Murder When can You Claim Self-Defense for Murder Charges in Illinois?

If you have been accused of murder, building a strong defense is key to obtaining the best result possible in your case. With a solid defense, it may be possible to have your charges reduced or even dismissed. Depending on the facts of your situation, you may be able to claim self-defense. Attorney David L. Freidberg has represented clients in all types of murder cases in the Chicago area and has successfully used self-defense in many of these charges.

What is the Definition of Murder in Illinois? First-degree Murder

First-degree murder is the most serious type of homicide charge in the state of Illinois. First-degree murder is defined by 720 ILCS 5/9-1. Someone who kills someone else without a valid justification may be guilty of murder if:

  • The individual intends to either kill or at least cause serious harm to another person;
  • The individual knows that his actions will very likely result in serious injury or death to another person; or
  • The individual was engaged in another crime at the time of the victim’s death (with the exception of second-degree murder). These crimes are called forcible felonies.

Forcible felonies include:

The penalty for first-degree murder is at least 20 years in prison. The maximum sentence is life in prison, as Illinois does not have the death penalty.

Every bit of time of a sentence for first-degree murder must be served—it is not possible to get out of prison early.

Second-Degree Murder

Second-degree murder, like first-degree murder, also involves the killing of another individual, but the circumstances are different.

Second-degree murder is defined in 720 ILCS 9-2.

To convict someone of second-degree murder, Illinois state prosecutors must show that:

  • The individual intended to kill or seriously injure another person; or
  • The individual knew that his or her actions would likely result in serious injury or death to another person.

The following circumstances may also apply in a second-degree murder case:

  • The individual was seriously provoked by the victim and his actions were triggered by an abrupt and powerful rage; or
  • At the time of the incident, the individual believed that the killing would have been justified under the law but such a belief was unreasonable.

Without these mitigating circumstances, a defendant may be charged with first-degree murder.

A second-degree murder charge may also be appropriate if, in a fit of rage, the individual kills another person instead of the one who actually provoked the reaction.

Someone convicted of second-degree murder may face between 4 and 20 years in prison. In some cases, probation may be ordered instead of prison time.

When can You use Self-Defense in an Illinois Murder Case?

Illinois statute 720 ILCS 5/6-4 provides that individuals may implement reasonable force to defend themselves or someone else. In addition, reasonable force may be used to defend one’s property.

To use self-defense in a murder case, the accused must show:

  • There was a grave and immediate threat to the accused, another person, or the accused’s property;
  • The threat was illegal;
  • The accused believed that there was a danger present that required force; and
  • The accused used force that was equivalent to the threat.

A serious and immediate threat means one that is happening right now. If you believe that someone may hurt you the following day, it will not be possible to claim self-defense.

An illegal threat is one that involves nonconsensual touch or harmful physical contact. These types of contact may include:

Whether the force was necessary depends on the facts and circumstances of the case. In general, if a reasonable person in the same situation would have reacted similarly, a judge or jury would likely find that the force was necessary.

The force that is used against the victim must be similar to the force that victim was using. To illustrate, it would be disproportionate to fire a gun at someone who had thrown a single punch.

There are two types of force: regular force and deadly force.

  • The goal of using regular force is simply to interrupt someone’s movements or actions.
  • The intent of using deadly force is to cause someone else serious injury or death.

Under Illinois law, it is acceptable to use regular force to defend oneself against some type of attack or entry into a property.

If the accused is defending himself or another individual, deadly force is appropriate if the accused is trying to prevent serious injury or death. Deadly force is also appropriate if the individual is trying to stop a forcible felony, which includes arson, robbery, sexual assault, and battery.

It is legal to use deadly force to prevent a violent attack against an individual or third party in a residence or other type of building so long as certain conditions are met:

  • The individual uses deadly force only against someone who is trying to get into the building violently, or
  • The individual believes that deadly force is required to stop a forcible felony from occurring in the residence or building.

If the individual claiming self-defense is committing a felony at the time of the incident, self-defense may not be used to fight murder charges.

How a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney can Help

Depending on the facts of your case, it may be possible to claim self-defense. Experienced criminal defense attorneys know how to identify the facts and circumstances that allow an individual to claim self-defense. Without an attorney, you may not be aware of the defenses you have available in your case—and you may receive a harsh sentence.

Call Chicago Attorney David L. Freidberg Today

Attorney David L. Freidberg has represented many clients accused of felony charges such as violent crimes and murder. With his legal expertise, you will have the best defense available presented in your case. To receive your free and confidential consultation, call or contact the Law Offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C. today by calling 312-560-7100.