You have a right to defend yourself. In fact, you can do things in the name of self-defense that would constitute assault if they happened in a different setting. For instance, striking someone with the intent to injure them is typically illegal but is allowed as a manner of self-defense.
What this means is that the act itself isn’t really in question, but the circumstances surrounding that act. Was it legal or illegal? Was it assault or not? The answers lie within those circumstances.
Defending against an immediate threat
The biggest qualifier is just whether or not there was an immediate threat against which you needed to defend yourself. In some cases, this is clear; a person strikes you and you have to use force of the same kind to protect yourself.
In other cases, though, it can be a little more difficult to define. Say someone threatens you. Generally, verbal exchanges should not lead to physical violence. You can’t punch someone for insulting you, for example, and have that be legally justified.
However, if the words they say genuinely make you fear that a threat is imminent, the use of force may be allowed. If the person threatens to attack you and then starts walking toward you, fists raised, you have reason to believe they’ll make good on that threat. If you strike them first, you can still claim that you were just exercising self-defense.
Defending your rights and your freedom
Cases like this carry serious ramifications; if the court deems that it was not self-defense, you could be jailed for assault. You absolutely need to know what defense options you have and the wise move is to speak to an experienced attorney right away.