Justifiable Use of Force

The legal concept of one’s ability to defend themselves is not new. It can be dated all the way back to ancient Rome. Illinois’s self-defense law can be found in Article 7, titled Justifiable Use of Force: Exoneration.

720 ILCS 5/7-1(a): Use of force in defense of person.

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.

Is There a Duty to Retreat?

Although not mentioned in the statute, Illinois case law indicates there is no duty to retreat before using defensive force, as long as the person using the force is in a place where he or she had the legal right to be and is not committing a crime. There are several key words in this statute that need to be addressed. The first and probably most important is “person.” This is extremely important when it comes to using deadly force. I cannot stress enough that the concept of justifiable use of deadly force covers defending yourself or another and not your possessions. There is a misconception by many that you can use deadly force to protect your belongings. This idea is not true, no matter how valuable or precious your property is to you.

The next key words are “himself or another.” It is legal in certain circumstances to use force, even deadly force, to defend another individual who is the victim of unlawful force. That other person need not be a loved one or friend; he or she could be a complete stranger. I have also put emphasis on the word “imminent.” “Imminent” means the unlawful use of force against you or another is either occurring or is immediately about to occur.

The second paragraph of the statute starts with “however” and distinguishes between the right of an individual to use force and “force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm.” Deadly force can only be used if the threat is imminent and to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another.

The law in Illinois also allows an individual to use deadly force when it is necessary to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. Forcible felonies include murder, criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, residential burglary, aggravated arson, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated battery, or any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force or violence against any individual.

When You are NOT Justified

If the forcible felony has already occurred, then use of deadly force is not justified.

A lot of people are under the false belief that you can use deadly force in order to stop a person who has committed a forcible felony from fleeing the scene of the crime. For example, if you are walking down the street with your briefcase in hand, and someone forcefully snatches your briefcase from your grip and is running away, you cannot then shoot that person. Why? Because at the time you shot the person, the forcible felony of robbery was over.

Justifiable use of force in Illinois relies heavily on whether the individual had a reasonable belief at the time force or deadly force was used. Every situation is different, and every situation has its own individual facts which must be considered as a whole.

You have an absolute right to defend yourself in Illinois, but it is extremely important to understand the law and how it protects you and your family. Be diligent in keeping up with all the laws pertaining to self-defense by attending one of our informative seminars.

If you have questions, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.


The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.