Criminal Defenses > Self-Defense in Minnesota

by Thomas C. Gallagher, Self-Defense Attorney

Self-defense of self, others or property, is an example of an affirmative defense.  The right to self-defense is a basic human right recognized from ancient times.  Self-Defense Attorney Thomas C. Gallagher presents the basic Minnesota law of the self-defense defense.

Common Law acknowledged this right.  Minnesota self-defense statutes incorporate the common law and natural rights to self-defense. See, Minnesota Statutes Section 609.06.

Let’s consider a hypothetical example.

You drive to the store to buy some items.  In the parking lot, a man you do not know begins to yell at you about money you supposedly owe.  The man violently assaults you.  You notice he is attempting to pull out a knife.  Fearing for your life, you resist the attack and end up killing him.  The government charges you with (makes the claim of) murder.  At the trial, your Minnesota self-defense attorney questions witnesses about what they saw and heard of the brief assault.  The jury has reasonable doubt about the prosecution assertion of a murder to prevent collection of a debt.  The jury agrees with self-defense.  The force used by you was reasonable under the circumstances of the attempted robbery. “Not guilty.”

Reasonable, necessary force in response to the apparent threat

Minnesota self-defense law
Minnesota self-defense law

In Minnesota, a person acts in self-defense if he or she reasonably believes force is necessary and uses only the level of force reasonably necessary to prevent the bodily harm feared.  State v. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d 392, 399 (Minn. 2001).

Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1 (3) codifies the right to self-defense.  A person may use reasonable force upon another “without the other’s consent” “when used by any person in resisting or aiding another to resist an offense against the person.…” Minn.Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1(3).

Minn. Stat. § 609.06, subd. 1 (3), includes four elements:

(1) the absence of aggression or provocation on the part of the defendant;
(2) the defendant’s actual and honest belief that he or she was in imminent danger of … bodily harm;
(3) the existence of reasonable grounds for that belief; and
(4) the absence of a reasonable possibility of retreat to avoid the danger.

State v. Basting, 572 N.W.2d 281, 285-86 (Minn.1997).

Affirmative Defense vs. Burden of Proof

An affirmative defense involves two parts.  First, the defendant must meet “the burden of going forward” with evidence to support a claim of self-defense.  After that, the State must attempt to meet its burden to disprove, beyond a reasonable doubt, self-defense.

Most defenses to criminal charges are not affirmative defenses.

Duty to Retreat If Outside the Home

Outside the home, Minnesota’s self-defense law has a “duty to retreat” provision.  A person facing a threat of bodily harm has a duty to retreat where practical, before responding with “reasonable force.”  A sudden attack can make retreat unrealistic by increasing the risk of bodily harm.

In order to protect you, your loved ones, or your property, in some situations there is no reasonable alternative to the use of reasonable force in self-defense.  However, the law of self-defense still requires that any use of force be reasonable under the circumstances, even where there is no legal duty to retreat.

Reasonable Force

What is “reasonable force?”  Thousands of court cases discuss this, in many facts scenarios.  Whatever the fact pattern, the level of force used in self-defense is roughly proportionate to the reasonably perceived threat level at that time.

The law places the focus on the perspective of the accused only.  But the situation as perceived by the accused must have been reasonable under the circumstances at that time.  People seem to want to second-guess the past actions of others, from the comfort of their safety.

The law reminds us to adopt the point-of-view of the defendant.  The question is: “was the defendant’s perception and response, reasonable under the circumstances known to him or her at the time?”  Often, important information learned later by police or others, was unknown to the defendant at the time.

Police and Self-Defense Training

When using force in self-defense, training teaches the use of force to stop the threat.   Our intent using force in self-defense, is not to kill or injure.  Rather it is to stop the threat.  Then stop the use of force.  When injury or death is the result of the lawful use of self-defense, it is not the specific intent of the person acting in self-defense.

Police officers are trained to shoot the center of mass when shooting in self-defense, continuously until the threat is stopped, and to shoot a person armed with a knife within striking distance.  (See, the Tueller Drill.)  Training for all who use a firearm in self-defense is the same.  Stop the threat.  Then stop.

Deadly force is reasonable force depending upon the reasonably perceived threat.  No one wants to end up in a case where a jury has to decide “was it reasonable?” given the threat presented at the time.

Even deadly force is reasonable and lawful “when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.”  Minnesota Statutes 609.065.

No duty to retreat in the home – Castle Doctrine

there's no place like home
there’s no place like home

If reasonably possible, a person must retreat before acting in self-defense.  This is the general rule in  Minnesota. Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d at 399.  Nowhere is safer to go than home.  If a person is outside his or her home and can safely retreat, then the person’s use of force is unreasonable under that law.

An exception is the so-called “castle doctrine.” A person need not retreat from his or her home before acting in self-defense. State v. Johnson, 719 N.W.2d 619, 622, 629 (Minn.2006).

The home is “a place critical for the protection of the family.” State v. Carothers, 594 N.W.2d 897, 900 (Minn.1999).  One’s home is a sanctuary.  “Requiring retreat from the home before acting in self-defense would require one to leave one’s safest place.” Glowacki, 630 N.W.2d at 401.

Some court cases define the boundaries of the home where there is no duty to retreat.  In one case the court considered an apartment hallway.  State v. Devens, 852 N.W.2d 255 (Minn. 2014).

When Available

Thomas Gallagher, Self-Defense Attorney
Thomas Gallagher, Self-Defense Attorney

The accused can use the self-defense defense in any case where the facts show that the defendant acted in self-defense, including many murder and assault cases.

Self-defense can also be a defense in a disorderly conduct case.

More In-Depth

Self-Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher’s blog has several in-depth articles on self-defense in Minnesota as well.

Do you have a question about self-defense or a Minnesota assault defense case?  You can now call Self-Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher at 612 333-1500