California Penal Code 198 PC states that you cannot claim self-defense if you kill someone based only on a bare fear. To be a justifiable homicide, rather, there must be a reasonable fear of an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury, and the need to use deadly force to deflect it.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
198 PC. 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.
California Penal Code 198 PC specifies that a “bare fear” is insufficient justification for killing someone in self-defense or defense of others. Instead, people must reasonably believe that they or others are in imminent danger of being killed or sustaining great bodily harm, and that they reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent it.1
People who kill based on only a bare fear and without reasonable justification face charges for first-degree murder. Penalties include 25 years to life in prison with or without the possibility of parole.2
Killing someone only in bare fear is also referred to as “imperfect self-defense.” This is when a person kills another person based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the necessity of using deadly force in self-defense. Imperfect self-defense is not a defense to murder.3
- California Penal Code 198 PC – Bare fear not to justify killing; Reasonable fear. CALCRIM 505. See also People v. Stitely (Cal., 2005), 35 Cal. 4th 514, 26 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 108 P.3d 182.
- Penal Code 187. Penal Code 190.
- See People v. Por Ye Her (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 349. See also People v. Nguyen (Cal., 2015), 61 Cal. 4th 1015, 191 Cal. Rptr. 3d