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Defense of a Third Person

Discussion in 'Strategies, Tactics, and Training' started by Kleanbore, Aug 1, 2020.

  1. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    This is from the latest of Andrew Branca's Cases of the Week blog posts.

    A little guy who worked in a concrete factory started a fight with much, much bigger guy at work.

    That was DUMB.

    Things unfolded as might have been expected. The big guy got the better of the little guy and was beating the bejeesus out of him.

    The little guy's brother, who had witnessed everything from the outset, grabbed something and went around behind the big guy and beaned him.

    That might have been understandable, but it was a criminal act. Read on.

    It was DUMB

    The brother was arrested and charged.

    He requested a bench trial, in which the judge acted as judge, interpreting the law, and as jury, judging the facts of the case.

    The brother's defense was that he had used force in the defense of a third party.

    That can be lawful ...

    But the judge said that, because the defendant struck his victim from behind, the act was not lawful.

    That was exceptionally DUMB.

    The brother was convicted.

    He appealed, arguing that the judge, in his role as judge, committed reversible error by ruling that a blow from behind was not lawful.

    The appeals court agreed that the ruling had been incorrect.

    BUT the appeals court properly ruled that, as the instigator of the confrontation, the little guy would not have been lawfully privileged to defend himself.

    For that reason, the brother was not privileged to claim lawful justification in having come to the defense of the little guy.

    That's pretty basic.

    Finally, there was something that was not DUMB: the ruling of the trial court was upheld.

    The ruling was handed down last week.

    The brother received a thirty-day suspended sentence. (!)

    None of this should have happened.

    In many states, a person may lawfully use reasonable force to defend a third party, provided that he has an objective basis for reasonably believing that the third person would be privileged to use force in the defense of himself.

    "She looked like an innocent victim" might not cut it at all, though it once worked for Geo. Patton. Things are not always as they appear.

    In a few states, if that belief later proves erroneous, the goose of the person who came to the aid of the third party is cooked.

    It is particularly imprudent to step into a confrontation unless you know what has already occurred.

    Since that's a tall order, it is usually best to elect to defend only people whom you know.

    For those who might be visualizing Dirty Harry stuff ("Smith, Wesson, and me"), "reasonable force" may involve shoving a person, grabbing an arm, or using pepper spray.

    Under some circumstances, deadly force may be justified. That can include using an aluminum bat or something heavy.

    Beyond criminal liability, there is also the risk of civil liability, where the defendant does not enjoy the benefit of a "beyond all reasonable doubt" requirement.

    Let's be careful out there!

    Going back to the concrete factory: one would hope that, had the beating appeared to have become life threatening, the trial court might have been more sympathetic to the defendant.

    Would that have been more likely with a jury trial? I wonder.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  2. Craig_VA
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    Craig_VA Contributing Member

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    The described lesson-to-be=learned sounds like a variation on the ongoing theme, You Have No Idea Who You're Dealing With.

    1. You don't know anything about that stranger.
    2. You don't have a clue who started the fight, that is, which combatant is the only one who can claim innocence.
     
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  3. entropy

    entropy Member

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    Little guys have been starting fights with bigger guys since time immemorial. I used to hang out with one in my late teens and twenties. More than once, his group of friends (me among them) would let the guy give him a beatdown for a while, then pull him off. He never learned (until he quit drinking) that we would not step in to defend him when he was wrong and/or the instigator.
     
  4. 748

    748 Member

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    No good deed goes unpunished?
     
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  5. JohnKSa

    JohnKSa Moderator Staff Member

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    Did you read the OP?

    Hitting someone without the proper legal justification, is a serious crime, not a good deed.
     
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  6. Trunk Monkey

    Trunk Monkey Member

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    It's not the same thing.

    For one thing in this example the brother saw the whole thing from beginning to end and knew that the little guy started the fight. So he knew he was coming to the defense someone who was in the wrong anyway.


    The main point of the thread that I started was it you shouldn't trifle with random strangers because you never know when you're going to trifle with that one person that you just should have never messed with.
     
  7. Trunk Monkey

    Trunk Monkey Member

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    In my opinion everything after that sentence is nothing more than window dressing.

    Starting a fight is a stupid thing to do.
     
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  8. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    That's the legal issue, in a nutshell

    Agree.

    But that 'window dressing' does serve to titillate and teach.
     
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  9. alsaqr

    alsaqr Member

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    Be careful with the defense of third persons.

    About 25 years ago an Oklahoma man drove upon a scene where a lady was being raped. The rapist jumped up, got into his car and attempted to run down the good guy, who shot and killed the perp. The prosecutor charged the Okie with murder or manslaughter, forget which. The rape victim testified against the good Samaritan in court. Man was found not guilty. Then the zealous prosecutor charged the man with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.
     
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  10. MedWheeler

    MedWheeler Member

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    I wonder (in the concrete factory incident) if, instead of attacking the bigger man from behind, the intervening man had attempted to pull or extract his brother from the fight and then had himself come under attack, he would have been seen as justified in defending himself. Just musing..
     
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  11. whughett

    whughett Member

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    Does beating “ the bejeesus” out of someone, deservedly or not enter the realm of life endangerment. At what point would the brother have been justified, if at any time Would the beater have been justified in beating the life from the instigator. . Different judge different jury different outcomes. The laws a crap shoot sometimes it seems.
     
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  12. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    At the point at which the little guy told the big guy that he wished to withdraw from the fight.

    Then and only then would he have regained his innocence and regained the privilege to defend himself.

    The trial court judge erred in procedure but not in convicting the brother
     
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  13. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    Third party defense...what a potential hornet's nest!

    There are so many permutations these can go through. Back when I first got my SC CCW, the class I took was small (me and the instructor) and the instructor was a police detective. When covering deadly force and what SC law had to say about it, third party defense came up and was quite interesting.

    One's primary focus should be one's own safety and well being. Of course, close family and friends you may be with rank right up there, too, and fall under "third party defense".

    But people you DON'T know, even if you happen to witness everything from well before the start of hostilities, must be approached with extreme caution with respect to the decision on how to act, whether with deadly force or not.

    One example he discussed had to do with domestic violence. You walk out into a parking garage from the mall and see some guy putting the beat-down on some lady. You make your decision to step up in the lady's defense, be that a physical altercation where you try to separate the individuals, some act of force against the aggressor, or perhaps the decision to use deadly force.

    Then you discover an unpleasant truth about many domestic violence cases where the lady now turns on YOU because YOU attacked HER MAN.

    You've placed yourself in extreme legal jeopardy, perhaps even physical jeopardy, because now she's a hostile witness against you.

    His point being that you really DON'T know the full circumstances of any given encounter you may happen across and things may go very badly indeed for you. Sometimes the best thing to do is "be a good witness" and start calling it in.

    The crux of third party defense is that you can act in the defense of the victim as if you were in their place. If deadly force would be reasonably required, then you could use it. But the same caveats exist for third party defense as for yourself, such as instigation.

    My OPINION as a common citizen is that unless there's truly a life-or-death situation going down (as I interpret it), then I MIGHT take action. But if I have to "talk myself into it", I'm probably barking up the wrong tree.

    The human body is an amazingly resilient biological machine. It can take a heck of a lot of general abuse before reaching a point where something MUST be done. Watch for those things which may cross that line. If it's not crossing that line, being that "good witness", being that guy who calls it in, being that guy who manages to get some pictures/video just MIGHT be the best course of action.

    As for this example in the original posting, where the person who went to court was the brother of the instigator: time to evaluate not only your own actions, but whether or not you need to have a little one-on-one discussion with the brother over stupid acts. Perhaps even time to evaluate whether or not you'll associate with the brother in the future for certain activities.

    Stay away from stupid people, family or friends, if they're the type to insist on doing stupid things in stupid places at stupid times.
     
  14. Craig_VA
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    Craig_VA Contributing Member

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    For almost 60 years I have taken recurring training from from Boy Scouts (BSA), American Red Cross (ARC), American Heart Association (AHA), and Wilderness First Aid (WFA) in first aid, lifesaving (swimmer), and CPR. In all of those training classes, the above has been a specific watchword: Be aware of the danger you put yourself in should you choose to act to help another. This was especially driven home in the ARC Lifesaving course. Do not act when you are likely to become a second victim, thus causing more people to have to rescue you both.
    More recently, in Branca's LoSD class, Andrew makes the same point on defending third parties who are strangers. In the lecture he pointed out that others have the same opportunity as we do to arm themselves and to train for self defense as we all do. It was their choice not to prepare for such a situation.
     
  15. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    Excellent post, Chief Thanks!

    But this


    ...does not really state things correctly.

    One may lawfully defend a third party only under circumstances in which
    1. you have reason to believe that the third party would be lawfully privileged to defend himself, or
    2. in some states, the third party is actually legally so privileged.
     
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  16. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    Thanks. I was simplifying it, obviously, but the devil is in the details in all matters concerning the use of deadly force.
     
  17. RetiredUSNChief

    RetiredUSNChief Member

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    Oh...another thing my instructor pointed out during the CCW class:

    Civilians who are not in law enforcement are NOT covered by qualified immunity. Law enforcement officers have obligations inherent with their jobs and civilians who are not in law enforcement are NOT under those same obligations, are NOT acting with the sanction of the State as LEOs, and are NOT covered by qualified immunity.

    HE has legal protection if he has to step in to separate people fighting, or to levy force for some reason. The rest of us do not.
     
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  18. 1942bull
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    1942bull Contributing Member

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    @Craig_VA made a critical point when he wrote:
    I learned that in Nam. Some grunts would go to the aid of WIA grunt who was in a field of fire. Mostly it ended up,with two WIA grunts in a field of fire. When common sense does not prevail under fire the outcome makes no sense.
     
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2020
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  19. mjsdwash

    mjsdwash Member

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    This reminds me of the wife beater in public thing. You see it, someone wants to act, but can you really think of ANY possible way that will make things better? You make him feel week? He does that to the victim. You beat the guy up, great. Then he beats her for it that night. He goes to jail? He gets out, and he's her problem again. Sad but true.
     
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  20. armedwalleye

    armedwalleye Member

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    Much better in circumstances like these to be a good witness rather than a bad participant.
     
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  21. whughett

    whughett Member

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    Well at any rate the current reaction to those in dire straits in America is to video rather than assist it seems
     
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  22. JTHunter

    JTHunter Member

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    So, the little guy (the instigator) got a 30 day suspended sentence. You state the brother was convicted but you don't mention what HE received as his sentence.
     
  23. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    Mistake. The brother was convicted and received a suspended sentence.
     
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  24. 23tony

    23tony Member

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    ???
    If that's what you meant to say, all I can say is wow...

    You really never know, do you?
     
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  25. Kleanbore

    Kleanbore Moderator Staff Member

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    Police officers do not have the option of not intervening in DV cases. and understand well how the victim often sides with the attacker.

    Civilians do have that option, and most cases they will be be well served to take advantage of it.
     
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