What degree and types of force is person A allowed to exert against person B to avoid battery by B? Does it matter whether the battery is threatened or occurring? What would be some guidelines for protecting ones self yet staying within the law?

The state legals codes I've read say, more or less, 'what is necessary', but surely, even if the only weapon a weak 5' 100lb person has is a gun they are still not allowed to shoot, possibly kill, an athletic 6' 200lb person in self-defense against battery such as in the link below.

If this general question is too general to answer, my apologies, then please substitute the following real-life situation as the scope:

What if any law is broken if Person B hugs Person A against A's expressed wishes?

Note that this question is also related to What is the basis for how aggressive a person can be in self-defense?, which is a question about theory, 'What is the basis', and regards self defense against any level of threat (not limited to battery). Moreover, that question elicited an answer arguing that person A is not allowed to use any force because a reasonable person would not be uniformly adverse to hugs to begin with. However, according to this question What if any law is broken if Person B hugs Person A against A's expressed wishes?, a bodily crime is being committed, and common sense would be that one has the right to physically defend one's self against a bodily crime. So either the answer is incomplete/wrong, or that question is so malformed as lead to not being interpreted as intended.

However, I find my questions answered https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/battery, a resource I was not aware of prior to following @DaleM's link to https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Reasonable+Force

  • "Aggress" is the wrong word: self defense is not a form of aggression. The question should be, what degree of force is permissible in self defense?
    – user6726
    Jan 15, 2018 at 2:55
  • edited and amended question
    – Slip
    Jan 15, 2018 at 3:08

1 Answer 1


It depends on the jurisdiction, but according to Wisconsin law 939.48:

A person is privileged to threaten or intentionally use force against another for the purpose of preventing or terminating what the person reasonably believes to be an unlawful interference with his or her person by such other person. The actor may intentionally use only such force or threat thereof as the actor reasonably believes is necessary to prevent or terminate the interference. The actor may not intentionally use force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm unless the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.

So in Wisconsin, even if shooting a person is "necessary" to get away from a hug, it's not justified unless you reasonably believe that you're going to be seriously hurt or killed by the hug. An unreasonable (but sincerely held) belief would only get the charges reduced from first-degree intentional homicide to second-degree intentional homicide.

As for what "reasonably believes" means, the annotations say:

The reasonableness of a person's belief... is judged from the position of a person of ordinary intelligence and prudence in the same situation as the defendant, not a person identical to the defendant placed in the same situation as the defendant.

  • 1
    This is a good answer, but I would elaborate re: OP's question about "Does it matter whether the battery is threatened or occurring?" because it sounds a bit open-ended above. A future threat would usually be insufficient justification of use of force in self defense. That does not mean one has to wait until the attacker's hands are on him, though. The person who argues self defense must have reasonably believed force was necessary to avoid imminent injury.
    – A.fm.
    Jan 15, 2018 at 12:43
  • does 'imminent injury' include any form of battery, as explained by @DaleM “any unlawful and or unwanted touching of the person" ? including battery that does not result in a physical injury, in the everyday sense of 'injury'?
    – Slip
    Jan 15, 2018 at 16:11
  • @Slip In Wisconsin the law I quoted says "great bodily harm". That is defined as "bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious permanent disfigurement, or which causes a permanent or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ or other serious bodily injury". That does seem to require physical injury.
    – D M
    Feb 25, 2018 at 22:59

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