California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

1304. Self-Defense/Defense of Others

[Name of defendant] claims that [he/she] is not responsible for [name of plaintiff]’s harm because [he/she] was acting in [self-defense/defense of another]. To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove both of the following:

1. That [name of defendant] reasonably believed that [name of plaintiff] was going to harm [him/her/[insert identification of other person]]; and

2. That [name of defendant] used only the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to protect [himself/herself/[insert identification of other person]].

New September 2003

Sources and Authority

  • Civil Code section 50 provides, in part: “Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of oneself, . . . or member of one’s family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest.”
  • “Self-defense being an affirmative defense, it must, in a civil action, be established by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence.” (Bartosh v. Banning (1967) 251 Cal.App.2d 378, 386 [59 Cal.Rptr. 382].)
  • “The right to use force against another has long been limited by the condition that the force be no more than ‘ “that which reasonably appears necessary, in view of all the circumstances of the case, to prevent the impending injury.” ‘ When the amount of force used is justifiable under the circumstances, it is not willful and the actor may escape liability for intentionally injurious conduct that is otherwise actionable. But if force is applied in excess of that which is justified, the actor remains subject to liability for the damages resulting from the excessive use of force… When an alleged act of self-defense or defense of property is at issue, the question of what force was reasonable and justified is peculiarly one for determination by the trier of fact.” (Calvillo-Silva v. Home Grocery (1998) 19 Cal.4th 714, 730—731 [80 Cal.Rptr.2d 506, 968 P.2d 65], internal citations omitted.)
  • “The right of self-defense is not limited by actualities. The correct rule . . . [is]: ‘Generally . . . , the force that one may use in self-defense is that which reasonably appears necessary, in view of all the circumstances of the case, to prevent the impending injury.’ In emphasizing that the law of self-defense is a law of necessity courts should never lose sight of the fact that the necessity may be either real or apparent.” (Vaughn v. Jonas (1948) 31 Cal.2d 586, 599—600 [191 P.2d 432], internal citations omitted.)

Secondary Sources

5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 417—421, 423

3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 41, Assault and Battery, § 41.21 (Matthew Bender)

6 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 58, Assault and Battery, §§ 58.19—58.20, 58.70—58.71 (Matthew Bender)

2 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 21, Assault and Battery, § 21.40 et seq. (Matthew Bender)

1 California Civil Practice: Torts (Thomson West) §§ 12:20—12:21