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Crime of Self-Defense

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Izek: He murdered the guard!
Evelyn: The guard was trying to murder him!
Izek: The guard's allowed to do that!

Bob has just beaten off a murderous attack by Alice. Plot over, Alice goes to jail, roll credits, right?

Wrong. Maybe Bob was bigger, or stronger, on the wrong end of a Double Standard (such as, for example, Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male) or could conceivably have run away. Or because of racism (regular or the fantastic variety), all evidence, no matter how blatant, is ignored. Either way, someone in a position of authority feels that Bob was in the wrong inflicting whatever damage he did to Alice, who on the other hand, is a poor victim. Cue drama.

This often involves Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male; sometimes, it's due to Selective Enforcement. Compare Can't Get Away With Nuthin', Wounded Gazelle Gambit, Wrongful Accusation Insurance. An attacker may even play a Deliberate Injury Gambit to invoke this trope. A history of such cases In-Universe may explain occurrences of Once is Not Enough. If the attacker uses words instead of violence, it's Made Out to Be a Jerkass.

As with everything else law-related, expect the writers to interpret self-defense laws creatively. Whether this is Truth in Television varies heavily depending on circumstance: self-defense laws usually give a person the benefit of the doubt when defending themselves or others against attempted murder, rape, or assault with a deadly weapon. However there are many circumstances in which this presumption goes away, and you can be put in prison for attempted murder for firing a warning shot at an attacker.note  Furthermore, it has to be a situation that you yourself did not cause or substantially contribute to; starting a fight with someone or doing everything in your power to antagonize and enrage them in a dispute, then claiming self-defense when you seriously injure or kill them will not fly in any court of law (unless the outcome was predetermined, of course).

Also, similar to the before mentioned double-standard, it's much easier for a woman to win a self-defence claim then it is for a man, especially when the attacker was male, both in real life and in fiction. This is because women tend to get more sympathy then men and courts will often instinctively want to give the woman the benefit of the doubt. For example, a woman who kills her abusive husband can get acquitted if she can convince the court of how terrified for her safety she was. Meanwhile, if you're a man who kills his abusive wife for the same reason, good luck with trying to get the court on your side.

Compare Arrested for Heroism, Fighting Back Is Wrong, and The Lopsided Arm of the Law. Not to be confused with Self-Offense. See also the All Crimes Are Equal, Sliding Scale of Unavoidable vs. Unforgivable, Inconveniently Vanishing Exonerating Evidence and Killing in Self-Defense. May result in Then Let Me Be Evil.

No Real Life Examples, Please! This does happen in Real Life, but let's leave it here.


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    Comic Books 
  • The back half of The Dark Knight Returns runs on the conceit that Batman would be considered a murderer for breaking the Joker’s neck while the latter’s trying to stab him to death, in the middle of a killing spree at that.
  • Explicit in Judge Dredd, where vigilante justice is a more heavily enforced crime than burglary and drug dealing. Yes, this includes "lethally resisting someone trying to kill you", or "breaking and entering private property while trying to escape," but only if you're caught.
  • Happens from time to time in Tex Willer, usually because both attacker and sheriff are on the paybook of the local Small-Town Tyrant.
  • In Optimus Prime, Jazz gets hunted down and vilified by humans for shooting and killing a man on live TV, followed by interfering with an arrest. What people don’t know is that the former was shooting to kill the Autobots, while the latter were racial profiling an innocent black teen.
  • Wonder Woman kills Maxwell Lord in order to stop him from killing thousands of people via a mind-controlled Superman. Unfortunately, the Brother Eye satellite which recorded this incident edited the footage to make it look like Diana had murdered an innocent man in cold blood.
  • This is the entire conflict between the X-Men and their nemesis, Magneto. The X-Men wholeheartedly believe in this ideal, as taught by their leader, Professor Xavier. Magneto, on the other hand, believes that the only way to battle oppression is to rise up and conquer humans. Various points of media will show either as being "right", Depending on the Writer.


    Visual Novels 
  • There's a subversion in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: The first culprit killed someone who tried to kill him first, making it a crime of self-defense...except as a classmate points out, the first culprit actually had another option; when the would-be murderer locked herself in the shower, the actual murderer could have simply left the room and escaped. Instead, he went out of his way to retrieve his toolbox from his room, then go back to his victim's room just to break down the shower door and stab her. The manga version is played straighter: he went into the shower without any weapons in an ill-thought-out attempt to calm her down, then accidentally stabbed her as they struggled over the knife, but before he can explain this Monokuma says that it doesn't matter whether it was self-defense or not.
  • The main character Kageaki has to face this trope in Full Metal Daemon Muramasa after he defended both himself and his mother from a crazed attacker. Specifically, in order to defend himself he had sworn the oath of the Law of Balance to the tsurugi Muramasa, a law that stipulates that for every ever enemy you slay, you also have to slay a friend. And the law is iron clad. There is no getting around it. Thus by killing the attacker even though it was self defense, he is then forced to kill his mother as the law exists under the notion that murder is always a horrible act, no matter the circumstances.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius made a running gag early in its run about everyone being mad at Gil for killing doctor Beetle (by batting his own bomb back at him), and Gil defending himself by saying, "He threw a bomb at me!" Also somewhat justified, in that Gil is the heir to his father's extremely chaotic empire, and as such he's going to need to learn to be more in control of every situation he's in than anyone else, even to the point of anticipating such attacks and dealing with them while still keeping his resources (such as people who need interrogating) intact. By Mechanicsburg, he's got a handle on this.
  • In Jupiter-Men, Arrio's checkered past as a Former Teen Rebel years ago earns him three weeks detention for defending himself when Chang picks a fight with him. By contrast, Chang is a highly popular athlete with an influential mom, so he walks away scot-free aside from getting a black eye from the earlier fight.
  • Last Res0rt: It's eventually revealed that one of Jigsaw's reasons for volunteering on the titular Deadly Game reality show was that it provided an excuse for her to flee the planet after she kicked her sire out of a 30th-story window. Apparently attempted sexual enslavement isn't an excuse for defenestration on Fenirel.
  • In Leftover Soup Jamie was mugged and shot but he grabbed the guy's gun and pistol-whipped him with it then called the police. But because the mugger was technically a minor (albeit a lot larger than the scrawny Jamie) the police took his side when he pressed charges for assault, and the only fingerprints on the (stolen) gun were Jamie's, and the press painted it as a hate crime because the supposedly beaten 17-year old was black. Jamie only got off because his accuser OD'd on PCP and killed himself. And it's later revealed that the mugger had stolen the ID showing him as a minor, to use as a cover identity. And he later murdered the original owner (the 17-year old) and planted the PCP to cover his tracks. Jamie is not happy to know that the police let this guy walk.
  • In Muertitos, the school has a zero-tolerance policy. After a girl bully attacks him, Honeo is suspended because instead of lying limp, he flailed around and could have hit someone, but the bully got off scot-free because her dad is rich and regularly makes donations to the school. You can see the strip here.
  • In a strip of Ozy and Millie, their regular Jerk Jock bully, Jeremy, keeps pushing Millie into a pool of mud, knocking her over every time she tries to get up. Finally, she snaps and socks him in the face... at which point a teacher immediately spots her, and hauls her into the principal's office for starting a fight. (The injustice inherent in the school system is a frequently visited theme.) What makes this even worse, the same teacher, upon being questioned by Millie's mom, pretty much admitted she saw the whole thing and only punished Millie because it was easier than dealing with the REAL bully. Quoth Millie's mom: "Did it hurt having your soul extracted?"
  • In Selkie the title character is assaulted at school and suspended for fighting when she kicked the bully in self-defense. The bully, on the other hand, wasn't punished, due to the school's principal being entirely cowed by the bully's parents.
  • In the arc "Milk" of S.S.D.D. a junkie tries to rob a store while Norman is there. Norm beats the crap out of the would-be thief, then gets arrested while walking back home. However thanks to the Amoral Attorney his mysterious employer hired and a clever suggestion by one of the cops to keep him out of trouble on Guy Fawkes he gets sentenced to 70 hours community service with The Bonfire Association. Notable for being a rare straight example that is not a case of Artistic License – Law: As Norman's lawyer points out, if he'd just punched the guy out then he wouldn't even have been arrested, but Norman kept waling on him long after he was no longer a threat, which will get you in trouble in Britain even if you were initially defending yourself from an unprovoked assault.

Alternative Title(s): Crime Of Self Defence