Can You Go to Jail for Using Pepper Spray on Someone? (2024)

Protecting yourself with pepper spray is legal in all 50 states, but there are restrictions on how you can use it. As a general rule, you can use it in self-defense to protect yourself from a real and immediate threat. As a self-defense product, pepper spray is not meant to permanently disable the attacker. Rather, it's a diversionary tool that can give you time to get away safely.

Pepper Spray is Legal in All States

It is legal to possess pepper spray in all 50 states. However, possession and use are regulated in most jurisdictions. In Nevada, for example, you're restricted from carrying more than two fluid ounces of pepper spray; in Wisconsin, you cannot camouflage the container. Massachusetts classifies pepper spray as a type of ammunition that can only be carried by someone over 18, or by someone under 18 who has a legal firearms permit obtained from a police department. Most states have rules against using pepper spray on law enforcement officials.

Read More: Pepper Spray Laws in Texas

Proportionate and Necessary Force

In most states, it's acceptable to defend yourself from an unlawful attack. The important thing is that you're acting in self defense, and that you use force which is "necessary" and "proportionate" to the threat you're experiencing. For example, if someone pulled a gun on you, using your pepper spray would likely be seen as an act of self defense. If you pulled out your pepper spray just because you didn't like the look of someone, a court might decide that your response was neither "necessary" nor "proportionate."

Intentional Harm to Another

It is illegal to hurt someone intentionally. If you use your pepper spray on someone for a reason other than self-defense, there's a chance that you will end up in court for assault, battery or both. The same applies if you were acting in self-defense but you provoked the original attack. For example, you cannot threaten violence with a weapon and then claim self-defense if the person retaliates in some way, causing you to use your pepper spray. If witnesses testify that you were the aggressor, then you will not be justified in using your pepper spray.

Making a Case For Self Defense

If you hurt someone with your pepper spray, whether in self-defense or otherwise, it's possible that you could end up in court charged with some type of assault or battery. It is up to you and your defense attorney to prove there was legal justification for self defense. If you were truly defending yourself and you can prove it, then it is unlikely that you would be convicted of a crime. However, if a court decides that you used the spray improperly, you could be fined up to $1,000 or imprisoned for up to three years, depending on the jurisdiction. Every state has its own laws on the punishment of assault and battery.


  • You shouldn't go to jail for using pepper spray in genuine self defense, but if you attack someone with it for some other reason, assault and battery charges might be on the menu for you.

Can You Go to Jail for Using Pepper Spray on Someone? (2024)


Can You Go to Jail for Using Pepper Spray on Someone? ›

Pepper spray and mace are not illegal in the State of New Jersey.

Can you pepper spray someone who punches you? ›

Pepper spray is technically an "assault." It's the same as "hitting someone back" if you are in a fight, you know what I mean? So like, if he were to assault you, e.g. spit on you, you can spray him if you think in that moment it will prevent further harm.

Can you sue for pepper spray? ›

Generally, a plaintiff who sustained injuries from pepper spray exposure will pursue their case under the product liability laws applicable in the state where the incident occurred. This is a unique kind of civil case that works similarly to a standard personal injury claim, but with a few key differences.

How many states is pepper spray legal? ›

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have authorized the use of pepper spray for self-defense in some form or another. Around half of the states have enacted restrictions on the use and possession of pepper spray.

Does pepper spray work in a fight? ›

The pros and cons of using pepper spray for self-defense depend on a variety of factors, such as the person using it, the attack they are defending themselves from, and the location. For most people, pepper spray can be an effective way to defend themselves from attackers.

What happens if someone sprays you with pepper spray? ›

Inhalation exposures can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, nasal and throat irritation, and runny nose. These effects are usually mild and temporary, lasting minutes to hours. However, more severe injury is possible including corneal abrasions, wheezing, and skin blisters.

What happens when you get hit with pepper spray? ›

Physical Effects - Pepper Spray

Eyes will appear red/bloodshot for 30 to 60 minutes. People wearing eyeglasses or contact lenses will be equally affected. Respiratory System: immediate inflammation, including swelling of the throat lining which can restrict the airway size.

What is the best legal alternative to pepper spray? ›

Wasp and hornet spray, carburetor cleaner, or brake cleaner would do the trick. Teach your teen not to spray themselves with it. Unless the “repellant" is very close at hand though, any defensive spray is ineffective. Being aware of your self and surroundings is still number one!

What pepper spray do police recommend? ›

SABRE contains both the inflammatory effects of red pepper and the irritating effects of CS tear gas. SABRE Red is also extremely effective because it uses the highest concentration of major capsaicinoids and is the number one pepper spray formulation used by police worldwide!

Can I use bear spray for self-defense? ›

No, bear spray and self-defense OC pepper spray are not interchangeable and have key differences. It is illegal to deploy bear spray against humans. Bear spray is specifically designed to deter bears in the event of an encounter.

Can you get pepper spray at Walmart? ›

Mace Police Strength Pepper Spray with UV Detection Dye - Black. Compact and Lightweight Pepper Spray at 0.33 lbs and 6".

What's the difference between pepper spray and mace? ›

Tear gas (“mace”) is an irritant whereas oleoresin capsicum (“pepper spray”) is an inflammatory agent. Ergo, pepper will likely have a harder-hitting and potentially longer-lasting effect (assuming it has any effect at all). As to how effective that will be … well …

How long does pepper spray last? ›

Most pepper spray canisters are dated by the manufacturer and typically good for a period of up to three years. Over time the propellant in the canister loses pressure and becomes less effective as a result. When a breeze is blowing, spraying into the general direction of the wind is unadvisable.

How painful is pepper spray? ›

How painful was it? Well, the two groups of recruits reported a mean initial eye discomfort level of 9.6 and 9.7. Pain only decreased to around 8.7 and 7.2 10 minutes later. Meanwhile, respiratory discomfort was initially rated as 8.2/8.6 and there was little change 10 minutes later.

Should a woman carry pepper spray? ›

Personal Safety Empowerment

Pepper spray offers women a tangible sense of empowerment. By carrying this non-lethal tool, women can take a proactive role in their own safety.

Should men carry pepper spray? ›

If a person wanted to carry a weapon of some sort but not necessarily a firearm or anything else potentially lethal, pepper spray is far and away the best option regardless of gender. Man or woman, cop or civilian, pepper spray works if used correctly.

How do you defend yourself if someone attacks you? ›

While you're defending yourself, yell/scream at your assailant to draw attention to your location, so passersby can interject. Use your head, knees and elbows where you can. These are the hardest parts of your body, so will provide the most impact (if used efficiently). Remember: the objective is to run away.

Can a woman defend herself against a man? ›

It's time to set the record straight and debunk some of the most common falsehoods. Here are a few crucial things that you should know are NOT true. A woman is fully capable of defending herself against a man in a straight-up fight with minimal effort and training.

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