ON THE USE OF DEADLY FORCE IN SELF DEFENSE
In the classic "The Decameron" written by Boccaccio in the year 1,353 a genteel young woman tells the tale of a man that killed another in self defense and that the whole of society thought that the man had been morally and legally entitled to kill to prevent another from killing him.
That is the oldest reference I know of about the use of deadly force in self defense... 139 years before Columbus discovered America. The concept is well ingrained in most cultures.
Everyone understands the general principle of self defense but as they say... the devil is in the details.
It has been my experience that regardless of the law... juries will always impose certain requirements upon the facts presented by the defense to conclude that the defendant was justified in using deadly force for self defense.
FIRST: If an aggressor is armed with a deadly weapon such as a firearm or a knife or a deadly instrument such as a hammer or an axe... and the attack is eminent... the jury will not have much trouble finding that a defendant acted reasonably in using deadly force in self defense.
It's pretty much the same in the use of deadly force in defense of home invasions and burglaries... specially at night... and the same goes when defending against an armed car jacking.
SECOND: However, if an aggressor is not armed with a deadly weapon or a deadly instrument then the defendant must usually show that he/she made an attempt at de-escalation and or avoidance or that the defendant first tried to defend himself with something less than lethal force... before having to escalate to lethal force.
It doesn't matter that you didn't start it. It doesn't matter that you warned off an unarmed attacker by telling him/her that you would shoot him/her if they continued to advance upon you.
What matters in court is your demonstrable attempts to
de-escalate and avoid the confrontation by attempting to get away if possible.... all the more important if you are in a vehicle that you can use to just drive away.
Exception: A deadly force response to an armed car jacker is almost always allowed.
If you can escape in a vehicle drive to a police station or a fire station. Always know where they are at along your daily routes. Use your cell phone to call 911 on the way.
If you are on foot try to get to a crowded place with plenty of witnesses that may discourage an aggressive attacker. Call 911 as you retreat.
If you are cornered and unable to get away then a jury will be more understanding of your reasonable use of deadly force to defend yourself from eminent harm.
I know that a lot of jurisdictions have recently passed
"Stand Your Ground" laws that do not require that you attempt to de-escalate or retreat before you resort to deadly force.... but prosecutors haven't yet gotten comfy with the notion.
Try to get away!! When deciding to charge or not charge most prosecutors will still want to know if you attempted to de-escalate or retreat before you resorted to deadly force.
A video of you backing away making conciliatory gestures will play a lot better that a video of you advancing while making aggressive gestures.
So... you are now in the grocery store parking lot with a big guy shoving you because you beat him to a parking space. There are possibly cameras and about ten witnesses...you have a pistol.
You back away as he shoves you.... making sure that the cameras and witnesses note your verbal effort to de-escalate. You conciliatory body language is important ... witnesses will later describe your actions and attitude to the police based on your observed body language.
Then... you reach in your pocket and pull out your handy pepper spray and blast the aggressor in the eyes with it.
You have just foregone your firearm and used non deadly force to attempt to protect yourself from the bully.
No one could find that to be an unreasonable or over broad response to a non deadly force attack.
So far you are on sound legal footing. You have not responded to a non deadly force attack with two shots to the bully's chest... you are a real John Q Citizen.
But the bully is now enraged and doubles his efforts to injure you. Now there is physical contact and you may even have demostrable injuries.
Now you can pull the pistol and put two in his chest.
What you have done is demonstrate that you reasonably attempted to de escalate and avoid... then attempted to protect yourself with non lethal force and only after you had no other choice and exhausted other less lethal options... finally resorted to lethal force.
Lethal force against an unarmed opponent must be your last recourse... specially in front of witnesses.
THIRD:Do not give chase or finish off an attacker.
The law protects your right to be safe. But once you are safe you have no right to continue using any sort of force, much less deadly force, against a now non attacker. Once you are safe you must stop.
If you pepper spray or shoot the bully and he leaves off you have won.
If he stops attacking you you have won.
If you can use your counter attack to get away from immediate danger you have won.
FOURTH: Self defense law allows you to protect yourself in a reasonable manner. Only that and no more.
Our cultural notions of reasonable self defense have deep roots. Current laws expanding those notions do not sit well with many jurors. A lot of homicide defendants believed it when they were told the law was now "Stand Your Ground".
The law may say that... but juries aren't buying it.
And this. Do a cost benefit analysis before you resort to deadly force. Is killing the bully shoving you around the parking lot worth going to trial for murder?
Undoubtably there are times when quick resort to your firearm is the only way to assure your survival but most street confrontations are not such times. And you must act prudently to stay out of prison.
FIFTH: You are not a cop. Juries seem to give cops a lot of leeway when cops commit questionable killings. You are not a cop. You won't get the same leeway.
SIXTH: Empathy. Everyone you kill is someone's son or brother or father or husband. It is not right to take a person from those that care about him or her. So do not do so unless your are in reasonable fear of immediate physical injury that can not be stopped by you leaving or running away.
I usually carry a pistol but there is always a pepper spray in my pocket. You can buy them on Amazon for less than ten bucks.... a lot cheaper than a good homicide defense attorney.
SEVENTH: None of us is as special as we think we are.
Life comes with a full contingent of jerks to remind us that we are not as special as our moms told us we were.
In a crowded society we all have to deal with jerks that at that point in time may get the best of us. It's just part of life and you must learn to tolerate it. Even the strongest lion can get his tail nipped at by a couple of hyenas.
So, whenever possible, avoid, de-escalate and attempt to get away before resorting to deadly force.
Don't let your ego put you in prison.
So live wisely and walk away from it when ever you can.