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self-defense n

1 : the use of force to defend oneself
2 : an affirmative defense (as to a murder charge) alleging that the defendant used force necessarily to protect himself or herself because of a reasonable belief that the other party intended to inflict great bodily harm or death see also justification

Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law ©1996. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Published under license with Merriam-Webster, Incorporated.