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California Penal Code 198 PC – Self-defense Killings


Los Angeles Criminal Defense LawyerAccording to California Penal Code 198 PC, it is not sufficient justification for killing someone in self-defense or defense of others based on a “bare fear.” To be considered justifiable, individuals must reasonably believe that they or others are in immediate danger of being killed or seriously injured, and that using deadly force is necessary to prevent it.

Engaging in a killing solely out of bare fear, without reasonable justification, can lead to charges of first-degree murder. Convictions for this offense can result in a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, with or without the possibility of parole.

When someone kills another person based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the necessity of using deadly force for self-defense, it is known as “imperfect self-defense.” However, imperfect self-defense is not a valid defense against a charge of murder.

Penal Code 198: A bare fear of the commission of any of the offenses mentioned in subdivisions 2 and 3 of Section 197, to prevent which homicide may be lawfully committed, is not sufficient to justify it. But the circumstances must be sufficient to excite the fears of a reasonable person, and the party killing must have acted under the influence of such fears alone.



Under California law, the use of lethal force in self-defense is considered legal only if certain conditions are met:

  • The person defending themselves must genuinely believe that they or someone they love were in immediate danger of being injured, killed, or forced to commit a crime against their will.
  • The person must reasonably believe that immediate and lethal force was necessary to prevent the impending danger.
  • The individual must not use more force than what is reasonably necessary against the alleged attacker.


Imagine a scenario where Sarah, a resident of California, is walking alone late at night when a stranger suddenly approaches her in a menacing manner. The stranger aggressively reaches into his pocket, causing Sarah to fear for her safety. In response, Sarah grabs a nearby object, believing it to be a potential weapon, and strikes the stranger, causing him severe injury.

In this situation, Sarah may invoke self-defense as a legal justification for her actions. She genuinely believed that she was in immediate danger of being harmed or killed by the stranger’s aggressive behavior and reached into his pocket. Sarah reasonably believed that using force was necessary to protect herself from harm.

To remain within the bounds of the law, Sarah should ensure that she only used the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to neutralize the perceived threat. It is the responsibility of the legal system to assess the reasonableness of Sarah’s actions in accordance with California self-defense laws.


To determine if a killing qualifies as self-defense in California, all circumstances relevant to the case are vital, as outlined in the California Penal Code Section 198. For instance, if the defendant had knowledge of the attacker’s criminal record or the past tendency of becoming violent when drunk, these factors are taken into consideration.

The reasonableness of the belief can also affect the assessment. In other words, the question that needs to be answered is whether a reasonable person in a similar position as the defendant, with the same information available, would reach the same belief.

If the answer is yes, then the belief can be deemed reasonable. The relevance of all the circumstances must be thoroughly considered to make a fair and accurate assessment of self-defense claims in California.



In some cases, a defendant may possess a belief that the threat level justifies the use of lethal force, but it turns out that the belief is unreasonable. This is known as imperfect self-defense in California.

Imperfect self-defense implies that while the killing was unlawful, it was committed without malice aforethought. As a result, the defendant cannot be charged with first-degree murder but can still face liability for second-degree murder or manslaughter.

It is important to note that the accuracy of the information on which the belief is based is not the determining factor for its reasonability. For instance, if someone’s spouse shoots an unfamiliar plumber because they genuinely believed the plumber was breaking in, even if that belief is ultimately proven to be incorrect, the spouse’s perception of feeling threatened in the moment can still be considered reasonable.

In cases of imperfect self-defense, the court will carefully examine the circumstances to determine the degree of culpability and whether the defendant’s belief, although unreasonable, can mitigate the charges they face.


In California, the imminence of danger is a critical determining factor in the assessment of self-defense cases. It is not sufficient to believe that the danger may occur in the near future.

For instance, a scenario where a person argues with their neighbor and the neighbor threatens to kill them while they sleep, provides an example. If the person retrieves a gun and goes after their neighbor to shoot them, it won’t be considered self-defense.

Legal standards require that the danger must be immediate and imminent for a claim of self-defense to be valid in California. Therefore, it is essential to establish the imminence of danger when assessing a self-defense claim.



In California, any use of force or malice that exceeds what is necessary to stop an aggressor can undermine a self-defense claim.

For example, if a thief breaks into your home and you are able to disarm or neutralize them, shooting them afterwards would not be considered self-defense.

It is important to avoid using more force than reasonably necessary when defending oneself. Using excessive force, such as shooting an already disarmed or neutralized aggressor, can complicate or invalidate a self-defense claim in California.



When charged with murder but having a valid claim of self-defense, it is crucial to seek assistance promptly. Many individuals are wrongfully convicted in similar situations, emphasizing the significance of having a prepared criminal defense lawyer.

Having the right legal representation can make all the difference between being charged with first-degree murder and successfully asserting self-defense. Therefore, if you are concerned about potential prosecution under California Penal Code Section 198 for a self-defense killing, it is advisable to contact the Tabibnia Law Firm.

Cyrus Tabibnia, an experienced criminal defense lawyer, is here to listen to your story and provide assistance. To schedule a case evaluation, please call 866-713-2159 and ensure you have the guidance necessary to navigate your situation effectively.


California Code, Penal Code – PEN § 198

CHAPTER 1. Homicide [187 – 199]

CHAPTER 1 – Homicide Section 198.5

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia

Cyrus Tabibnia, also known as Shahrooz Tabibnia, is a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, California. With a law degree from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, he has been practicing law since 2005 and holds license #237348. With over 18 years of experience, Cyrus specializes in various misdemeanor and felony criminal Law including Domestic Violence, Theft Crime, Sex crime, DUI & DWI, Personal Injury, Employment Law, and Cannabis & Marijuana Drugs Law. Being bilingual in English, Persian, and Spanish enables him to effectively communicate with a diverse range of clients. From 2014 to 2018, he served as a board member of the Iranian American Bar Association. An expungement attorney in Los Angeles who can assist you in clearing your criminal record in the state of California.

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