What is the Michigan Self-Defense Act?
Based on the Michigan Self-Defense Act (MSDA), an individual may use deadly force or less than deadly force against an individual if they have an honest and reasonable belief that imminent death, sexual assault or great bodily harm (GBH) will happen to you or another individual and the force is used against a person breaking or entering a home or business, committing a home invasion or is present inside a home or business, or is attempting to remove a person from a home, business, or vehicle against their will.
The person who the force is used against cannot have a legal right to be in the premises. You cannot be involved in the commission of a crime when using force. You cannot use force against a spouse or former spouse or someone who you have or had a dating relationship with, or whom, you have committed domestic violence against in the past (MCL 780.951).
Is There a Duty to Retreat in Michigan Before Using Deadly Force?
There is no duty to retreat before using deadly force in Michigan if you are in a place you have a legal right to be, and you honestly and reasonably believe the force is necessary to prevent imminent death, sexual assault or great bodily harm to yourself or another. You must not be engaged in the commission of a crime to claim self-defense (780.972).
There is also no duty to retreat if you are in your home or on your property (MCL 788.21c).
The Burden is on the Prosecution to Disprove Self-Defense Under the MSDA
If the police believe you were not justified in using force, you can be arrested. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that your use of force was not justified under the MSDA.
Other charges still may result from the use of force in self-defense. For example, if you shoot someone in self-defense, you may not be criminally responsible for the shooting itself, but you still may be charged with an offense related to the weapon such as the ones listed below:
1. Felon in Possession of a Firearm
You may be justified in using force against a person based on the MSDA, but if a weapon is used and you are not legally able to possess a weapon based on statue as a felon, you may still be charged with a firearm violation. Possession of a firearm by a felon carries a penalty of up to five (5) years and a $5,000 fine.
2. Carrying a Weapon During the Commission of a Felony
If you were carrying a weapon during the commission of a felony, you face a minimum of two (2) years in prison for a first offense and up to ten (10) years for multiple offenses. Since being a felon in possession of a firearm is a felony, prosecutors often add this charge.
3. Carrying a Concealed Weapon
Were you illegally carrying a weapon without a concealed weapons permit? If so, you may still be charged with this offense. A carrying a concealed weapon charge carries a penalty of up to five (5) years and a $2,500 fine.
What If You Are Not Acting Within The MSDA?
Self-defense can still be a defense for the use of force, even if you do not fall within the MSDA. Common law self-defense is an affirmative defense you can raise as justification for your actions, if it applies. Affirmative defenses are not defenses to an element of the crime you are charged with. With an Affirmative Defense, you admit to the act but argue that there is justification or excuse for the act.
Michigan recognizes Duress and Self-Defense as affirmative defenses. Duress is acting under threat of death or serious bodily harm. Self Defense is acting out of fear of death or serious bodily harm. An affirmative defense is defense which must be proven by the defendant, not the prosecutor.
One such defense is justification. The facts that led to being in possession of the weapon and the limited duration you possessed the weapon may result in justification for the possession, even if you otherwise would be illegally possessing the weapon. This is if you can show you possessed the weapon only long enough to defend yourself.
Additionally, you cannot have placed yourself in a situation where you knew you would be forced to engage in criminal conduct. For example, you cannot start a fight or go somewhere expecting a fight, and then claim self-defense.
How to Keep Any Conviction Related to Self-Defense Off Your Criminal Record
If you are charged with a crime and you believe it was self-defense, you will need competent legal representation to navigate the case. A skilled defense attorney will protect your rights and raise all potential defenses. Self-defense laws are complex; whether you are being investigated for a crime or if you have been arrested, the first step is obtaining experienced representation.
Establishing a defense is based on the unique facts and circumstances of your case. Although you can still be arrested after defending yourself, competent representation can help you raise all possible defenses including self-defense, if it applies to your case.
Michael Norman is a trial attorney practicing both civil and criminal litigation. Over the last 16 years, he has handled hundreds of cases; collecting millions of dollars for civil plaintiffs and multiple not-guilty verdicts for criminal defendants. He received his BA from Clark Atlanta University in 1998 in Sociology and Criminal Justice. He earned his JD from Georgia State University in 2004, where he served as president of the Black Law Student Association 2003. Michael is admitted to practice law in Michigan, the state of Georgia, federal courts and the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Michael was born and raised in the City of Detroit. He served in the Marine Corps after high school until he was discharged in Georgia, where he settled and attended both undergraduate and law school. After interning with the Department of Justice, he has continuously represented criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs in Michigan and Georgia courts. Michael was recognized by the State Bar of Georgia Committee on Professionalism in 2007. He returned permanently to Michigan in 2013 and continues to represent clients in both criminal and civil cases.