Criminal Defenses > Self-Defense in Minnesota

Self-defense of self, others or property, is an example of an affirmative defense.  The right to self-defense is a basic human right that has been recognized from ancient times, and recognized in the laws on self-defense.

It was acknowledged at Common Law and has been incorporated into the Minnesota self-defense statuteMinnesota Statutes Section 609.06.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example.

Johnny Apple drives to the store to buy some items.  In the parking lot, a man he does not know begins to yell at him about money he supposedly owes the man.  Then the man proceeds to brutally assault Johnny, during which Johnny notices he is attempting to pull out a knife.  Fearing for his life, Johnny breaks the man’s neck which kills him.  The government charges (makes the claim of) criminal murder.  At the trial, Johnny’s Minnesota defense lawyer questions witnesses who testify about what they saw and heard of the brief assault.  The jury was convinced that it was not a murder to prevent collection of a debt, but a killing in self-defense because the “force” used by Johnny was “reasonable” under the circumstances of the attempted robbery. “Not guilty.”

Outside the home, Minnesota’s self-defense law contains a “duty to retreat” provision.  A person facing a threat has a duty to retreat where practical, before responding with “reasonable force.”  If an attack is sudden retreat might be unrealistic or create a risk of bodily harm.  In order to protect you, your loved ones, or your property, in some situations there may be no reasonable alternative to the use of reasonable force in self-defense.

What is “reasonable force?”  There must be thousands of court cases discussing this, in various situations.  The idea is that the level of force used in self-defense should be commensurate with the perceived threat level at the time.

Police are trained to shoot the center of the body when shooting in self-defense, and to shoot a person armed with a knife within striking distance.  That could be reasonable force.  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.  If you are defending yourself or others from a violent attack, however, even deadly force can be reasonable.