We’ve begun discussing the 5 pillars of self-defense. They are: innocence, imminence, avoidance, reasonableness, and proportionality. Learn them. Today we will turn to imminence.
You are permitted to use deadly force when there is an imminent threat of “death, serious physical injury, kidnapping, sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat, or a felony involving the use of force.” (KRS 303.050)
Imminence means that something is about to happen – right now – immediately. And for self-defense purposes, that thing must be a bad thing. In fact it must be something capable of causing death or serious physical harm.
In the Kentucky Revised Statutes, KRS 500.080 defines serious physical harm as “physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and prolonged disfigurement, prolonged impairment of health, or prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.”
Last month, Gwendolyn Jenrette, a Miami resident, shot and killed a burglar as he was “leaving” her home. She received a notice of an alarm at her house, and rushed home to find Trevon Johnson there. He was not armed. As he ran out and she shot and killed him. Prosecutors are considering charges. Was she in “imminent” danger? Probably not, if the burglar was fleeing the scene. In fact, last August, an Akron, Ohio man was charged with voluntary manslaughter for shooting a home invader. The felon tried to rob David Hillis, 21, when Hillis grabbed his gun and chased the invader outside, shooting at him. The thug died, and the prosecutor has decided that the act of chasing the “victim” outside the home, nullified the castle doctrine law, and has charged Hillis, stating that he was no longer in “imminent” danger once the suspect fled.
What if you are threatened with death or serious bodily harm over the phone or the internet? Can you find and kill the person who threatened you and claim self-defense? Probably not. Instead you will probably find yourself charged with premeditated murder.
What if someone is outside your front door and yelling that he’s going to kill you. Can you legally shoot him? Probably not. As long as the door stands between you and the thug, you are not in “imminent” danger of death or great bodily harm. In fact, if you open the door and the threat rushes in, although you might now be in “imminent” danger, you could be charged with a crime; the prosecutor may claim that you were the aggressor. You did not need to open the door unless you wanted to create the situation which would allow you to shoot someone. Under this scenario you would lose your “innocence” protection and your self-defense claim would fail.
The ability to defend yourself with deadly force is a great responsibility. If someone is charged with murder, it takes months to convict him, and will take years for the appeals before the state can judicially execute him. You, however, have the legal right to be the judge, jury, and executioner, if the deadly threat is “imminent”. You hold all that power in your hand when you draw your legally possessed handgun. Self-defense law allows you to make that decision in a matter of seconds. But once made, there is no going back; and your self-defense claim will depend on clearing up to 5 hurdles: innocence, imminence, avoidance, reasonableness, and proportionality. Interpreting the evidence for “imminence” is your responsibility. If it isn’t about to happen “right now”, if the sky isn’t really falling, retreat to safety, and press check your handgun to make sure it’s loaded.
“But what about Stand Your Ground Laws?” You ask. “My state says I have no duty to retreat.” We’ll look at that next week when we cover “avoidance”.