Using Force to Defend Another Person

Kleanbore

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Aug 13, 2008
Messages
17,224
"I carry my gun to only to protect myself and my loved ones--period".

"I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked".

We see those conflicting sentiments often here. It is essential to understand the implications.

The laws of our country permit the use of force to protect another person from physical harm and from kidnapping--under certain circumstances.

At the first level of analysis, the rules can be stated simply; Attorney Andrew Branca puts it this way: one may lawfully employ force in defense of another if and only if that person would be lawfully justified in using force to defend themself.

It's a little more complicated than that: In some jurisdictions, the defender must have a basis for reasonably believing that the other person would be so justified. In others, such a belief alone will not suffice: if it turns out that in reality, that person would not have been so justified, the use of force in intervention would not be lawful.

Remember that.

That's the basic theory, but there's also an important practical reality--one which many police officers have learned the hard way. The victim of such an attack may review the bidding after the fact and decide to not support a story that would support lawful intervention. That leaves the citizen who has intervened, officer or civilian, in a very tight spot regarding justification.

So, those are the basics. What does it all mean? If a citizen sees another person being beaten, shot at, or chased, wouldn't that be adequate?

No.

Even if three people were jumping up and down on an apparent "victim", that would not suffice.

To have any inkling of whether the other person would be justified in using force to defend himself, one has to know what has transpired beforehand. Let's review the elements of lawful self defense.

*******

There are several key elements that come to bear in justifying the lawful use of force in self defense. All must be met. Attorney Andrew Branca lists them this way, but while terminology may vary among jurisdictions, these apply throughout our country.

The first is innocence. A person who has initiated a physical confrontation is not lawfully entitled to defend himself. There is an exception: if the actor makes it clear that he does not want to continue the confrontation and does in fact attempt to withdraw in good faith, he can regain lost innocence.

The second is imminence--The attack against which defensive force is used must be happening, or about to happen, right now-- not later on and not in the past, however recent. The attacker must have the ability an the opportunity to carry out the attack. To illustrate, a man with a knife some distance away lacks the ability to use it in a violent attack.

The third involves proportionality. Though a fist can kill, it is seen in law as unlikely that it will do so, and usually, a lethal weapon may not be brought to bear against an attack made with fists. There are exceptions--we'll get to those. If the attack itself does not involve deadly force, it would not be lawful to employ deadly force in response. Deadly force is defined as force that would be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. Deadly force obviously involves weapons such as guns, knives, or blunt instruments, and it can also involve a significant disparity of force between the parties--a difference in size, strength, or fitness, or a difference in numbers. Generally speaking, men are more capable of fighting than women, giving women the advantage. Only non-deadly physical force may be used to defend against a non-deadly physical attack, and it must be proportion to the attacking force. Deadly force may only be used to defend against deadly force, and once the realm of deadly force has been reached, the proportionality requirement goes out the window. By the way, pepper spray, properly used, is considered non deadly.

This brings us to avoidance, which in law refers to retreat. The old English Common Law, which dated to the era of contact weapons, required a person to retreat to the wall if attacked. Many US jurisdictions impose a duty to retreat--before using deadly force, a defender must retreat, if retreat is safely possible. Castle doctrine laws obviate this requirement inside one's residence and sometimes in other places. I n addition, some jurisdictions have enacted stand your ground laws that eliminate the duty to retreat anywhere in which a person has a right to be.. There are two kinds--in some jurisdictions, the laws not only eliminate the legal requirement to retreat, they instruct jurors to not consider a defender's failure to retreat when considering reasonableness. In other jurisdictions, there is no such provision.

Finally, to be lawful, the defensive use of force must meet the test of reasonableness. Others will judge that, after the fact. Jurors will be instructed to judge whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances, knowing what the defendant knew at the time, would have done the same thing as the defendant, would have done the same thing. Would he have retreated? Would he have resorted to the use of defensive force? The triers of fact will judge whether he used no more force than was necessary to stop the attack.

Again, the lawful justification of defensive force requires that all of the requirements outlined above be met.

One other important thing: The "green light" for defensive force does not go on and stay on for the duration of the encounter. The window of justification can open, close, open again, and close again several times as events unfold.

*********

Now, it should be obvious that the citizen who comes upon a violent act in progress without knowing what has previously transpired cannot know, or even safely assume, that any of the participants would be lawfully justified in using force to defend himself. Therefore, intervention using force may well be unlawful. Even drawing a gun could lead to serious consequences. Better to call 911, and if possible, take video from a safe vantage point, unless we know what led up to the melee.

*************

Aren't these restrictions just awful? We have all seen the cowhands from the Ponderosa, the man in black with the chess piece on his holster, and the singing cowboys, come along and save the day for someone on television, but that's fiction. Our natural desire to be heroes and to do the right thing applies to reality. In reality, we cannot have people going around shooting the wrong people.

*************
The above discussion is not conjecture. It reflects expert legal opinion, the black letter law throughout our country, the criminal jury instructions, numerous appellate court decisions, and---real cases.
 
"I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked".

This statement always bothers me. What does it mean? Are you going to be suicidal? Are you going to be crippled psychologically for the rest of your life. Just virtue signaling, in my trained opinion.

Since I know something about this, we have some pretty good therapies for trauma induced problems. They have helped folks who have gone through much more horrible tragedies than this. If you were really in a place that you could not live with yourself, seek out competent therapies.

You also could not live with yourself, if you end up dead.
 
. The victim of such an attack may review the bidding after the fact and decide to not support a story that would support lawful intervention. That leaves the citizen who has intervened, officer or civilian, in a very tight spot regarding justification.
From many readings and ASP badgecam commentaries it seems this is very likely in domestic violence situations.
 
"…I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked…"
To piggyback on the excellent observations @GEM made above…while one is wrestling with the legal system, dealing with family stress, losing your job (from employer who cannot wait around), dealing with legal costs…that complete stranger you just saved likely will not even recall your name 72 hours later!
 
I hope this is not too tangential but also an interesting thing to ponder the initial statement reminded me of:

"I carry my gun to only to protect myself and my loved ones--period".

I have a small child, often enough have other families with us, even sleepovers, and in the past fostered so tons of "not my kids" that I had an explicit legal duty of care.

So, it's easy to run against greater-good issues. Like, say the classic indiscriminate gunman in a mall. Even if no one is blocking my access there's not necessarily any cut-and-dry decision as to whether I protect the group I am with by seeking cover or distance (hide/run-away) vs engaging to stop the threat. All seems very conditional and... rapidly spins off into tangents also. But love to hear more on this as well even if another thread is needed when someone like @Kleanbore has the spare time.
 
As a young cop who was frequently sent to calls involving people in conflict, and also happened upon a lot of 'on-view' incidents where people were in conflict, I quickly learned that initial impressions could end up being quite wrong when it came to supposed 'victims' and 'attackers/aggressors'.

Also, even when justifiably coming to the aid of a victim in a DV-type situation didn't guarantee that the victim wouldn't turn on the arriving cops, in defense of the 'attacker' from moments before.

Then, later learning what could happen when plainclothes or off-duty cops became involved in incidents where they were shot by arriving cops who mistook them for 'armed suspects' was ... concerning, to put it mildly.

Who wants to be identified as the unknown 'good guy with a gun' ... posthumously?

Never forget that rushing to the aid of someone who you may wish to assume is an innocent third person may be revealed to be a situation like that described on some old maps, meaning Here Be Dragons, folks ...
 
There are numerous good points brought forth, as usual. We've have debated this, and similar topics often.

Again, the lawful justification of defensive force requires that all of the requirements outlined above be met.
There needs to be a caveat there. The wrench in the gears here is that one might have only a split-second to determine someone is in imminent danger of suffering serious bodily harm or death.

While I think Branca has always provided vital information that everyone who owns firearms should be familiar with, one must remember that an important aspect of the test of reasonableness (objective reasonableness, reasonable man) is this part:

"...a reasonable person in similar circumstances, knowing what the defendant knew at the time..." This acknowledges the window of time in which a subject has to make his/her assessment of the situation may have been minute due to any number of factors. Darkness, rapidly evolving events, inability to identify the subjects involved or what they have in their hands, previous misinformation. And the appearance of what was going on can be a factor, hopefully one's attorney can paint a good picture for a jury. The subsequent legal proceedings may forgive a critical error in judgement, if a court is allowed to scrutinize all the circumstances and intent. It all comes down to whether or not your intervention was reasonable. Reasonableness will depend on the facts and circumstances of your specific case. Questions of fact are left to the jury.to determine if the use of force was immediately necessary, based upon what you knew and believed at the time, the jury will consider evidence, facts, and testimony They will be asked to consider whether an objectively reasonable person, acting under similar circumstances, would have also believed the use of force was immediately necessary to protect another person from harm.

Defense of a third person situations (deadly force) should receive the same scrutiny and consideration of other deadly force situations. Cops shoots a guy in a dark doorway who was reaching for his wallet, and not a gun? Law-abiding citizen a victim of a no-knock warrant on the wrong address in the middle of the night, shoots a cop? Guy shoots another guy in a dark alley next to a nightclub after hearing moans and screams, seeing the guy on top of a female, thinking it was rape, shoots him when he stands up holding a cell phone, turns out it was consensual drunken sex...

This statement always bothers me. What does it mean? Are you going to be suicidal? Are you going to be crippled psychologically for the rest of your life. Just virtue signaling, in my trained opinion.
Not to derail the thread too much, but I will explain why that sort of statement does not resonate with me.

I have been exposed to any number of traumatic events and experiences in my life. Yet, the very few that stick with me, where I do have the thoughts such as "I wish I could have done more" or "I should have done more or done something differently" are not the experiences that, had I known the future, I'd have predicted would stay with me, causing any anguish or self-recrimination.

Probably the one thing I've learned is that we cannot predict the impact of some major, life-changing events on our psyche, our memories and how we end up coping with that history.

My conscience nags me about a situation I didn't involve myself in when I was teen, had the opportunity to step up and save someone from potential serious physical harm (it turned out all right) but did not do so. That was more than 45 years ago. It's not just pride or ego that causes me to look back with regret on this; it was the look in the victim's eyes.

I don't know that it's simply "virtue signaling" as much as it is that many of us here do tend to subscribe, at least subconsciously, to the sheepdog mentality and what keeps us going is that we believe in our moral compass, desiring to believe that we will react bravely and honorably. Is there really anything wrong with that? Should we be critical of, or deride those that express their feelings?

Most folks, absent any experience in gunfighting, ultimately don't know how they would react. We all want to think we're gonna stand up for the victims, the downtrodden, abused or oppressed.

Use of deadly force in defense of another person is an issue in which we cannot say with any certainty what we would do in any given situation.

Every incident being different, dynamic and rapidly evolving, the best we can do, practically speaking, is acquire an understanding of all the laws pertaining to use of force/use of deadly force in our states, as well as all the potential consequences should we have to use deadly force and be willing to accept the many risks. Avail yourself of all the training you can afford, practice regularly with your tools, check your ego when you go out your front door.
 
In a previous thread where this came up, several here said a uniformed police officer being attacked would be a clear case where a person could choose to defend. What about a small child being attacked?
 
In a previous thread where this came up, several here said a uniformed police officer being attacked would be a clear case where a person could choose to defend. What about a small child being attacked?
Both would come within the constructs outlined in the OP.
 
My sense is intervening with any people who I do not specifically know simply carries way too much risk.
Unless one is youthful, a single orphan, and with endless wealth…there is likelihood of great heartache and hassle. That is the real world environment in which we currently find ourselves. Proceed with caution.
 
There is very extensive literature on prosocial behaviors and the factors that lead one to act or not act.
1. Diffusion of Responsibility
2. Ability to Intervene
3. Risk
4. Identification with person and their perceived social group
5. Perception of negative affect (I can't live with myself)
6. Evaluation of action promotes group survival (innate bias to protect children)
7. Perceived evaluation of any rewards (financial, reputation, social praise, etc.)
8. Seeing others help
9. Immediacy of action

So each situation goes through this. Watching gang bangers fight vs. seeing a child being kidnapped. Go through each - if you are an unarmed civilian in Ukraine and a squad of Russians grab a girl - what do you do?

To Old Dog - on 'I can't live with myself' - my point is that if an action or inaction produced long term emotional or cognitive responses/obsessive thought that disrupt your life, they can be dealt with today. The fear of having such, given what I said, is not a reason for an unwise intervention. If one is forced to or chooses not intervene and such problems develop, that can be dealt with. I might tell a police officer not to become a police officer because they may develop a later stress disorder. 30% will admit that they might after an iffy shooting, even if cleared. So should they not become officers because of that fear or not act when they should. The answer is that psychological stress is not something to tough it out and suffer alone. Same for a civilian. Thus, the 'I can't live with myself' if looked at rationally is not rational and IMHO, a lot of it on the Internet is virtue signaling.
 
My assumption is that firing a gun defensively will wreck my life. Years of courtrooms and lawyers, hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses, divorce, loss of income, loss of home, possible incarceration. Obviously that is not the universal outcome, but at least in my anti-gun part of the world, it happens.

So any time the question of "Should you get involved?" comes up, that is the test I apply: is it worth it? In many ways it greatly simplifies my decision-making process.
 
To Old Dog - on 'I can't live with myself' - my point is that if an action or inaction produced long term emotional or cognitive responses/obsessive thought that disrupt your life, they can be dealt with today. The fear of having such, given what I said, is not a reason for an unwise intervention.
Yes, and I was not disagreeing with you.

I reread my post and one of my statements might be construed as disagreeing with you -- I was actually trying to communicate why the notion "I couldn't live with myself" doesn't resonate with me as my belief is none of us can really know what we can, or cannot, live with in the aftermath of a critical incident. Almost everyone that I know with whom I've worked in law enforcement, corrections and the military, have suffered varying levels of stress disorders. Including myself. And as you know, stress disorders may not manifest themselves immediately, sometimes years after the event(s).

As for "virtue signaling," I am not sure I am in full agreement there. The "I couldn't live with myself" thing might not be rational, but it's a commonly heard, oft repeated comment, and I think a lot of folks who say this -- in the context of discussion of strategy and tactics on a firearms forum -- actually believe it. Most who carry firearms, especially those that go the extra mile and obtain legal, tactical and shooting training, believe they will respond appropriately if they encounter a situation in which another is in peril of seriously body harm or death. I noted
...many of us here do tend to subscribe, at least subconsciously, to the sheepdog mentality and what keeps us going is that we believe in our moral compass, desiring to believe that we will react bravely and honorably.
Some gravitate to professions where they swear an oath to "protect and serve" or "defend against all enemies," others, ordinary citizens want to believe that they will step up to defend another, even someone they do not know, if they believe harm will otherwise befall them.

If one believes they have moral duty to protect others, who am I to say they're just "virtue signaling?" Which has come to be used as an insult in these times. (There's a noted linguist who has said that the very act of accusing someone of virtue signaling is an act of virtue signaling in itself, interestingly.). And, one could argue that we then get into "do-gooder derogation," where a person's morally motivated behavior leads to them being perceived negatively by others.
 
Good post. My comment on virtue signaling was just an observation that sometimes we get that quote without a well thought out evaluation of intervention. Certainly, yours are well thought out!

How and when to intervene is complex. I appreciate your effort.
 
I carry my CCW for mine and my family’s protection… I’m not getting involved in something unless I feel like mine or my family safety is in jeopardy… The world we live in today doesn’t suffer fools
 
The world we live in today doesn’t suffer fools
Unless we elect them to office.

The saying used by quite a few major firearms instructors to describe this approach is

Not my circus, not my monkeys

Well, we (speaking as a long-time LE firearms instructor) would say that, but typically in the context of a lone off-duty officer encountering a situation, call it in, be a good witness, don't get involved until the cavalry rides in (and only if they ask for your assistance).

But again, I remain somewhat bemused by folks on the internet who can say with certainty what they would or would not do in a potential lethal force situation. Presumably most without any experience in a firefight, being around live gunfire -- not on a range, never witnessed a deadly force situation. Heck, most folks have never even witnessed anyone administering or receiving a real physical beatdown.
 
Since most victims of violent crime are victimized by someone they know, it stands to reason that they would turn on a stranger who intervened and shot said person.

Shooting someone in defense of yourself is an easy decision because there simply isn't any other choice. Do it or you die right now. Defense of a third person can be the most risky decision a person can make because you never really know what you're looking at or how it will all turn out after the fact. Proceed with extreme discretion.
 
"I carry my gun to only to protect myself and my loved ones--period".

"I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked".

We see those conflicting sentiments often here. It is essential to understand the implications.

The laws of our country permit the use of force to protect another person from physical harm and from kidnapping--under certain circumstances.

At the first level of analysis, the rules can be stated simply; Attorney Andrew Branca puts it this way: one may lawfully employ force in defense of another if and only if that person would be lawfully justified in using force to defend themself.

It's a little more complicated than that: In some jurisdictions, the defender must have a basis for reasonably believing that the other person would be so justified. In others, such a belief alone will not suffice: if it turns out that in reality, that person would not have been so justified, the use of force in intervention would not be lawful.

Remember that.

That's the basic theory, but there's also an important practical reality--one which many police officers have learned the hard way. The victim of such an attack may review the bidding after the fact and decide to not support a story that would support lawful intervention. That leaves the citizen who has intervened, officer or civilian, in a very tight spot regarding justification.

So, those are the basics. What does it all mean? If a citizen sees another person being beaten, shot at, or chased, wouldn't that be adequate?

No.

Even if three people were jumping up and down on an apparent "victim", that would not suffice.

To have any inkling of whether the other person would be justified in using force to defend himself, one has to know what has transpired beforehand. Let's review the elements of lawful self defense.

*******

There are several key elements that come to bear in justifying the lawful use of force in self defense. All must be met. Attorney Andrew Branca lists them this way, but while terminology may vary among jurisdictions, these apply throughout our country.

The first is innocence. A person who has initiated a physical confrontation is not lawfully entitled to defend himself. There is an exception: if the actor makes it clear that he does not want to continue the confrontation and does in fact attempt to withdraw in good faith, he can regain lost innocence.

The second is imminence--The attack against which defensive force is used must be happening, or about to happen, right now-- not later on and not in the past, however recent. The attacker must have the ability an the opportunity to carry out the attack. To illustrate, a man with a knife some distance away lacks the ability to use it in a violent attack.

The third involves proportionality. Though a fist can kill, it is seen in law as unlikely that it will do so, and usually, a lethal weapon may not be brought to bear against an attack made with fists. There are exceptions--we'll get to those. If the attack itself does not involve deadly force, it would not be lawful to employ deadly force in response. Deadly force is defined as force that would be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. Deadly force obviously involves weapons such as guns, knives, or blunt instruments, and it can also involve a significant disparity of force between the parties--a difference in size, strength, or fitness, or a difference in numbers. Generally speaking, men are more capable of fighting than women, giving women the advantage. Only non-deadly physical force may be used to defend against a non-deadly physical attack, and it must be proportion to the attacking force. Deadly force may only be used to defend against deadly force, and once the realm of deadly force has been reached, the proportionality requirement goes out the window. By the way, pepper spray, properly used, is considered non deadly.

This brings us to avoidance, which in law refers to retreat. The old English Common Law, which dated to the era of contact weapons, required a person to retreat to the wall if attacked. Many US jurisdictions impose a duty to retreat--before using deadly force, a defender must retreat, if retreat is safely possible. Castle doctrine laws obviate this requirement inside one's residence and sometimes in other places. I n addition, some jurisdictions have enacted stand your ground laws that eliminate the duty to retreat anywhere in which a person has a right to be.. There are two kinds--in some jurisdictions, the laws not only eliminate the legal requirement to retreat, they instruct jurors to not consider a defender's failure to retreat when considering reasonableness. In other jurisdictions, there is no such provision.

Finally, to be lawful, the defensive use of force must meet the test of reasonableness. Others will judge that, after the fact. Jurors will be instructed to judge whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances, knowing what the defendant knew at the time, would have done the same thing as the defendant, would have done the same thing. Would he have retreated? Would he have resorted to the use of defensive force? The triers of fact will judge whether he used no more force than was necessary to stop the attack.

Again, the lawful justification of defensive force requires that all of the requirements outlined above be met.

One other important thing: The "green light" for defensive force does not go on and stay on for the duration of the encounter. The window of justification can open, close, open again, and close again several times as events unfold.

*********

Now, it should be obvious that the citizen who comes upon a violent act in progress without knowing what has previously transpired cannot know, or even safely assume, that any of the participants would be lawfully justified in using force to defend himself. Therefore, intervention using force may well be unlawful. Even drawing a gun could lead to serious consequences. Better to call 911, and if possible, take video from a safe vantage point, unless we know what led up to the melee.

*************

Aren't these restrictions just awful? We have all seen the cowhands from the Ponderosa, the man in black with the chess piece on his holster, and the singing cowboys, come along and save the day for someone on television, but that's fiction. Our natural desire to be heroes and to do the right thing applies to reality. In reality, we cannot have people going around shooting the wrong people.

*************
The above discussion is not conjecture. It reflects expert legal opinion, the black letter law throughout our country, the criminal jury instructions, numerous appellate court decisions, and---real cases.
Ok, are you a lawyer, and if so, where.? In TX, we have a right to defend others. However, you do have to be vigilant. The person you may try to step in to protect, may have started the whole thing. But even if he started it with one person, but he (or she) is laying on the ground, no longer able to protect themselves and they are getting stomped and kicked, I'd think that I could still lawfully intervene. Here is where the vigilance comes in... And you always need to be aware of police involvement, off duty officers often act when something is going on. You really don't want to be the person who sees something going on and assume that the guy in civilian clothing with a gun is the bad Guy!
 
Ok, are you a lawyer, and if so, where.? In TX, we have a right to defend others. However, you do have to be vigilant. The person you may try to step in to protect, may have started the whole thing. But even if he started it with one person, but he (or she) is laying on the ground, no longer able to protect themselves and they are getting stomped and kicked, I'd think that I could still lawfully intervene.
Not with deadly force unkess you gad no wau of knowing thagt he was not innocent.
 
"I carry my gun to only to protect myself and my loved ones--period".

"I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked".

We see those conflicting sentiments often here. It is essential to understand the implications.

The laws of our country permit the use of force to protect another person from physical harm and from kidnapping--under certain circumstances.

At the first level of analysis, the rules can be stated simply; Attorney Andrew Branca puts it this way: one may lawfully employ force in defense of another if and only if that person would be lawfully justified in using force to defend themself.

It's a little more complicated than that: In some jurisdictions, the defender must have a basis for reasonably believing that the other person would be so justified. In others, such a belief alone will not suffice: if it turns out that in reality, that person would not have been so justified, the use of force in intervention would not be lawful.

Remember that.

That's the basic theory, but there's also an important practical reality--one which many police officers have learned the hard way. The victim of such an attack may review the bidding after the fact and decide to not support a story that would support lawful intervention. That leaves the citizen who has intervened, officer or civilian, in a very tight spot regarding justification.

So, those are the basics. What does it all mean? If a citizen sees another person being beaten, shot at, or chased, wouldn't that be adequate?

No.

Even if three people were jumping up and down on an apparent "victim", that would not suffice.

To have any inkling of whether the other person would be justified in using force to defend himself, one has to know what has transpired beforehand. Let's review the elements of lawful self defense.

*******

There are several key elements that come to bear in justifying the lawful use of force in self defense. All must be met. Attorney Andrew Branca lists them this way, but while terminology may vary among jurisdictions, these apply throughout our country.

The first is innocence. A person who has initiated a physical confrontation is not lawfully entitled to defend himself. There is an exception: if the actor makes it clear that he does not want to continue the confrontation and does in fact attempt to withdraw in good faith, he can regain lost innocence.

The second is imminence--The attack against which defensive force is used must be happening, or about to happen, right now-- not later on and not in the past, however recent. The attacker must have the ability an the opportunity to carry out the attack. To illustrate, a man with a knife some distance away lacks the ability to use it in a violent attack.

The third involves proportionality. Though a fist can kill, it is seen in law as unlikely that it will do so, and usually, a lethal weapon may not be brought to bear against an attack made with fists. There are exceptions--we'll get to those. If the attack itself does not involve deadly force, it would not be lawful to employ deadly force in response. Deadly force is defined as force that would be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. Deadly force obviously involves weapons such as guns, knives, or blunt instruments, and it can also involve a significant disparity of force between the parties--a difference in size, strength, or fitness, or a difference in numbers. Generally speaking, men are more capable of fighting than women, giving women the advantage. Only non-deadly physical force may be used to defend against a non-deadly physical attack, and it must be proportion to the attacking force. Deadly force may only be used to defend against deadly force, and once the realm of deadly force has been reached, the proportionality requirement goes out the window. By the way, pepper spray, properly used, is considered non deadly.

This brings us to avoidance, which in law refers to retreat. The old English Common Law, which dated to the era of contact weapons, required a person to retreat to the wall if attacked. Many US jurisdictions impose a duty to retreat--before using deadly force, a defender must retreat, if retreat is safely possible. Castle doctrine laws obviate this requirement inside one's residence and sometimes in other places. I n addition, some jurisdictions have enacted stand your ground laws that eliminate the duty to retreat anywhere in which a person has a right to be.. There are two kinds--in some jurisdictions, the laws not only eliminate the legal requirement to retreat, they instruct jurors to not consider a defender's failure to retreat when considering reasonableness. In other jurisdictions, there is no such provision.

Finally, to be lawful, the defensive use of force must meet the test of reasonableness. Others will judge that, after the fact. Jurors will be instructed to judge whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances, knowing what the defendant knew at the time, would have done the same thing as the defendant, would have done the same thing. Would he have retreated? Would he have resorted to the use of defensive force? The triers of fact will judge whether he used no more force than was necessary to stop the attack.

Again, the lawful justification of defensive force requires that all of the requirements outlined above be met.

One other important thing: The "green light" for defensive force does not go on and stay on for the duration of the encounter. The window of justification can open, close, open again, and close again several times as events unfold.

*********

Now, it should be obvious that the citizen who comes upon a violent act in progress without knowing what has previously transpired cannot know, or even safely assume, that any of the participants would be lawfully justified in using force to defend himself. Therefore, intervention using force may well be unlawful. Even drawing a gun could lead to serious consequences. Better to call 911, and if possible, take video from a safe vantage point, unless we know what led up to the melee.

*************

Aren't these restrictions just awful? We have all seen the cowhands from the Ponderosa, the man in black with the chess piece on his holster, and the singing cowboys, come along and save the day for someone on television, but that's fiction. Our natural desire to be heroes and to do the right thing applies to reality. In reality, we cannot have people going around shooting the wrong people.

*************
The above discussion is not conjecture. It reflects expert legal opinion, the black letter law throughout our country, the criminal jury instructions, numerous appellate court decisions, and---real cases.
But, even if one individual starts an altercation, with another individual, but the individual, who started it is on the ground.and the other guys friends jump in and he's now on the ground outnumbered, can I intervene to save his life?
 
But, even if one individual starts an altercation, with another individual, but the individual, who started it is on the ground.and the other guys friends jump in and he's now on the ground outnumbered, can I intervene to save his life?
Refer to the OP.
 
"I carry my gun to only to protect myself and my loved ones--period".

"I could not live with myself if I did not act to defend a person who was being attacked".

We see those conflicting sentiments often here. It is essential to understand the implications.

The laws of our country permit the use of force to protect another person from physical harm and from kidnapping--under certain circumstances.

At the first level of analysis, the rules can be stated simply; Attorney Andrew Branca puts it this way: one may lawfully employ force in defense of another if and only if that person would be lawfully justified in using force to defend themself.

It's a little more complicated than that: In some jurisdictions, the defender must have a basis for reasonably believing that the other person would be so justified. In others, such a belief alone will not suffice: if it turns out that in reality, that person would not have been so justified, the use of force in intervention would not be lawful.

Remember that.

That's the basic theory, but there's also an important practical reality--one which many police officers have learned the hard way. The victim of such an attack may review the bidding after the fact and decide to not support a story that would support lawful intervention. That leaves the citizen who has intervened, officer or civilian, in a very tight spot regarding justification.

So, those are the basics. What does it all mean? If a citizen sees another person being beaten, shot at, or chased, wouldn't that be adequate?

No.

Even if three people were jumping up and down on an apparent "victim", that would not suffice.

To have any inkling of whether the other person would be justified in using force to defend himself, one has to know what has transpired beforehand. Let's review the elements of lawful self defense.

*******

There are several key elements that come to bear in justifying the lawful use of force in self defense. All must be met. Attorney Andrew Branca lists them this way, but while terminology may vary among jurisdictions, these apply throughout our country.

The first is innocence. A person who has initiated a physical confrontation is not lawfully entitled to defend himself. There is an exception: if the actor makes it clear that he does not want to continue the confrontation and does in fact attempt to withdraw in good faith, he can regain lost innocence.

The second is imminence--The attack against which defensive force is used must be happening, or about to happen, right now-- not later on and not in the past, however recent. The attacker must have the ability an the opportunity to carry out the attack. To illustrate, a man with a knife some distance away lacks the ability to use it in a violent attack.

The third involves proportionality. Though a fist can kill, it is seen in law as unlikely that it will do so, and usually, a lethal weapon may not be brought to bear against an attack made with fists. There are exceptions--we'll get to those. If the attack itself does not involve deadly force, it would not be lawful to employ deadly force in response. Deadly force is defined as force that would be likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. Deadly force obviously involves weapons such as guns, knives, or blunt instruments, and it can also involve a significant disparity of force between the parties--a difference in size, strength, or fitness, or a difference in numbers. Generally speaking, men are more capable of fighting than women, giving women the advantage. Only non-deadly physical force may be used to defend against a non-deadly physical attack, and it must be proportion to the attacking force. Deadly force may only be used to defend against deadly force, and once the realm of deadly force has been reached, the proportionality requirement goes out the window. By the way, pepper spray, properly used, is considered non deadly.

This brings us to avoidance, which in law refers to retreat. The old English Common Law, which dated to the era of contact weapons, required a person to retreat to the wall if attacked. Many US jurisdictions impose a duty to retreat--before using deadly force, a defender must retreat, if retreat is safely possible. Castle doctrine laws obviate this requirement inside one's residence and sometimes in other places. I n addition, some jurisdictions have enacted stand your ground laws that eliminate the duty to retreat anywhere in which a person has a right to be.. There are two kinds--in some jurisdictions, the laws not only eliminate the legal requirement to retreat, they instruct jurors to not consider a defender's failure to retreat when considering reasonableness. In other jurisdictions, there is no such provision.

Finally, to be lawful, the defensive use of force must meet the test of reasonableness. Others will judge that, after the fact. Jurors will be instructed to judge whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances, knowing what the defendant knew at the time, would have done the same thing as the defendant, would have done the same thing. Would he have retreated? Would he have resorted to the use of defensive force? The triers of fact will judge whether he used no more force than was necessary to stop the attack.

Again, the lawful justification of defensive force requires that all of the requirements outlined above be met.

One other important thing: The "green light" for defensive force does not go on and stay on for the duration of the encounter. The window of justification can open, close, open again, and close again several times as events unfold.

*********

Now, it should be obvious that the citizen who comes upon a violent act in progress without knowing what has previously transpired cannot know, or even safely assume, that any of the participants would be lawfully justified in using force to defend himself. Therefore, intervention using force may well be unlawful. Even drawing a gun could lead to serious consequences. Better to call 911, and if possible, take video from a safe vantage point, unless we know what led up to the melee.

*************

Aren't these restrictions just awful? We have all seen the cowhands from the Ponderosa, the man in black with the chess piece on his holster, and the singing cowboys, come along and save the day for someone on television, but that's fiction. Our natural desire to be heroes and to do the right thing applies to reality. In reality, we cannot have people going around shooting the wrong people.

*************
The above discussion is not conjecture. It reflects expert legal opinion, the black letter law throughout our country, the criminal jury instructions, numerous appellate court decisions, and---real cases.
But, even if one individual starts an altercation, with another individual, but the individual, who started it is on the ground.and the other guys friends jump in and he's now on the ground outnumbered, can I intervene to save his life
To piggyback on the excellent observations @GEM made above…while one is wrestling with the legal system, dealing with family stress, losing your job (from employer who cannot wait around), dealing with legal costs…that complete stranger you just saved likely will not even recall your name 72 hours later!
Self defense insurance!!! US Law shield or USCCA cover any self defense or defense of others... Even when it doesn't involve a firearm.
 
Back
Top