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In The Media :

What evidence is required to present self-defense in Illinois? (Part 2)

This is Part Two of our article relating to what evidence is required to present Self-Defense in Illinois. Self-Defense is an affirmative defense. If you are charged with a crime in Springfield, Illinois, Decatur, Illinois or anywhere else in Central Illinois, contact our Criminal Defense Attorneys at (217) 414-8889 for a Free Initial Consultation. Part One can be found here.


720 ILCS 5/7-1 provides:

A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony. (emphasis added)


A subjective belief on the part of the accused that he or she was in danger is enough to put the issue before the trier of fact. Whether that subjective belief was reasonable is a question of fact that must be resolved by the trier of fact. People v. Scott, 424 N.E.2d 70 (3d Dist. 1981). Illinois does not impose on the nonaggressor a duty to retreat from a place where he or she is legally entitled to be before he or she may engage in self-defense. People v. Willis, 569 N.E.113 (1st Dist. 1991).

A person is not authorized to use force to resist an arrest which he knows is being made either by a peace officer or by a private person summoned and directed by a peace officer to make the arrest, even if he believes the arrest is unlawful and the arrest in fact is unlawful.  720 ILCS 5/7-7.  If a defender has reasonable grounds to believe himself in danger or of suffering bodily harm, he may protect himself even if he is mistaken and the danger is only apparent.  People v. Brumbeloe, 97 Ill. App. 2d 370, 240 N.E.2d 150 (1st Dist. 1968).

A defense of justifiable use of force, or of exoneration, based on the foregoing provision is an affirmative defense.  720 ILCS 5/7-14.  Unless the state’s evidence raises the issue involving self-defense, the defendant must present some evidence thereon to raise the issue.  720 ILCS 5/3-2.

Self-defense is always a question of fact to be determined by the trier of the fact.  When, after raising this defense, there is a guilty finding, a reviewing court will not reverse that determination unless it is so unsatisfactory or improvable as to justify a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt.  People v. Adams, 113 Ill. App. 2d 205, 252 N.E.2d 35 (1st Dist. 1969).

The gist of self-defense is not what the fact finder thinks a reasonable man would believe but what the defendant as a reasonable man believed under the circumstances.  When a person is threatened by bullies, he does not have the time to reason out every response he should make or to judge precisely how much force he has to use to repel the attack and ensure his safety.  Where the defendant was being bullied, the question is whether, on the basis of quickly unfolding events described months later by testimony that is confusing and contradictory, defendant’s response can be said to have been reasonable under the circumstances.  People v. Lenzi, 41 Ill. App. 3d 825, 355 N.E.2d 153 (1st Dist. 1976).

In judging whether the defendant’s use of force in self-defense was justified, it is his perception of danger, not the actual peril, that is dispositive.  He is not required to exercise infallible judgment in a brief period of time while under great stress and excitement.  People v. Tirrell, 87 Ill. App. 3d 511, 42 Ill.Dec. 493, 408 N.E.2d 1202 (3d Dist. 1980).

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