There are 5 legal pillars of a self-defense justification. Learn them. They are: innocence, imminence, avoidance, reasonableness, and proportionality. Fail to establish any one of these, and you might move into new digs as a guest of the State if you ever use deadly force in self-defense.
Over the next few sessions, we’ll talk about each one of these. You need to do your own research and purchase Andrew Branca’s work, The Law Of Self Defense, or Massad Ayoob’s book, Deadly Force, Understanding your right to self-defense.
For self-defense justification, innocence means that you were not the initial aggressor, nor did you prolong or escalate the conflict. In other words, you must clearly be the victim of an unprovoked, unlawful, deadly force assault. And more than your actions will be considered, some States hold that there are “fighting words”.
Innocence is important. If your case is chosen by a prosecutor up for re-election, he will be intent on portraying you as a real SOB, who provoked some poor sap for the expressed purpose of shooting him. That poor sap will have a new name, “Victim”, and you’ll have one too, “Defendant”. And the court will have your gun and your testimony that you used it to kill the poor sap (or worse, if he survives, HE will testify that you started it). Will you have innocence on your side?
To get to the bottom of innocence, let’s turn to the only innocent man – Jesus. Look at his words, recorded in the Gospel According to Matthew:
But I say unto you that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Too often mistaken for a position on pacifism, this statement gives a clue to living an innocent life. Jesus suggests the best response to unlawful force which has been used against you. The law in most states allows you to meet force with force. But is it the best choice? Having a justification to use force doesn’t mean you have to. If you do respond, and if the aggressor starts to get the better of you, causing you to use your firearm, will the prosecutor say that you started this whole thing? (Think Travon Martin, the “child” who would look like Barak Obama’s son, if he had one) A clever prosecutor will tell a pretty convincing story. What will the jury believe?
Jesus isn’t making the case for allowing someone to KEEP hitting you, or even to allow someone to use unlawful deadly force against you (or a loved one) without self-defense. Remember, he’s the one who said that if you don’t have a sword, sell your coat and buy one. He’s pointing out a path to peace, if there is to be one. There is a time for peace, and a time for war. Pursuing the path to peace provides a legal basis for justification if there is to be war.
It’s not likely that someone will just walk up and hit you, although it’s happened to me twice. What is more likely is that someone will crowd you too hard on a two-lane road, or perhaps cut you off near a highway exit. How will you respond? Will the prosecutor be able to use your response to paint you as the initial aggressor if the fuss turns violent at the next stop light?
How do your co-workers see you? Are you a “hot-head” who is always spoiling for a fight, or are you able to let slights and criticisms pass nearly unnoticed? What about your family? Are you living the life of innocence? Every day, I walk our dog in a nearby cemetery. I’m fascinated by grave markers. I’ve begun a collection of pictures of misspellings and other mistakes carved into granite. This is one of my favorites.
Pay attention to the dates. Father died 4 years after mother. Notice that Mother is “in heaven”. Father, however, “?”. Perhaps they ran out of money, and couldn’t have two more words engraved. Or perhaps Father’s destination was known, just not printed.
When you defend yourself against deadly force; the question of who started it must be clear. You can help a jury, not yet chosen, decide in your favor by establishing a life of peacefulness, and thereby strengthen your claim to legal innocence.