In the State of Maryland, we have a right to self-defense and to defend ourselves.  All too often people say there is no right to self-defense in the State of Maryland, which is not accurate, although in the State of Maryland Self-Defense is defined very narrowly in comparison to other states. 

Self-Defense is most often asserted in cases alleging Assault, Attempted Murder and Murder.  Self-Defense, also known as Perfect Self-Defense, is an absolute defense to charges of Assault, Attempted Murder and Murder, meaning the defendant must be found not guilty of those charges.  

In Maryland the determination of whether Self-Defense applies is made by the fact finder, either the Judge in a court trial or the Jury in a jury trial.  In some states the issue of whether Self-Defense applies is determined by way of pre-trial hearings but that is not the practice in the State of Maryland.  

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In Maryland, the burden is on the Defendant to produce evidence that Self-Defense applies.  The Defendant is required to show:  

  1. That they were not the aggressor or although they were the initial aggressor, they did not raise the fight to a deadly force level;
  2. That the defendant actually believed that they were in immediate and imminent danger of bodily harm;
  3. That the defendant’s belief was reasonable; and 
  4. The defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend themselves considering the threatened or actual harm.  

Once evidence covering these four factors is produced, the state has the burden of showing one of these factors is absent, meaning does not exist.  If the state is unable to show a factor is absent, the fact finder, judge, or jury is required to find the defendant not guilty.  

If the judge or jury finds that the Defendant’s belief that they were in immediate and imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm was unreasonable or that the defendant used more force than reasonable a Defendant may still be protected by way of a doctrine known as Imperfect Self-Defense.  If the Defendant can establish Imperfect Self-Defense, it will reduce an Attempted Murder or Murder to Voluntary Manslaughter, which carries a far more reasonable sentence in comparison to the possible or mandated life sentence one can receive for Attempted Murder or Murder. 

Very often, the police and state are focused on the issue of who did what and are only interested in why things happened to the extent that it confirms their theory of the case, making it imperative that the Defendant and their counsel be prepared to present the necessary evidence to make sure a full and accurate case is given to the judge or jury.  At COHEN|HARRIS LLC,, we have over 50 years of combined experience handling allegations of violent crimes so feel free to contact our office with any questions or concerns at 888-585-7979 or

Written by Roland S. Harris IV, Esq. – Senior Partner at COHEN|HARRIS LLC