by Greg Hopkins
Clash Daily Contributor
Previously, I discussed about legal ignorance on self-defense that is compounded by “tried but false” slogans. Another of those slogans is “I was in fear for my life!” The idea is that if you say this, it’s a “Get out of Jail Free” card. However, the law demands that your fear be rational and your actions based on that fear be according to state law.
Let’s say you accidentally roll into the start of a riot. Rioters pound on your car with hands fists and kicks, while a few block your way. What should you do. Chat room sages and social media heroes will say, “I’m in fear for my life, so I’ll just stand on the gas and let them take their chances!” If you kill or hurt anyone, I’m betting your DA will charge you with at least manslaughter, attempted murder, and/or felony assault.
Courts require that your fear must be rational, not speculation or some morbid fantasy on what might happen if you didn’t use deadly force immediately. In our hypothetical, the rioters didn’t have you hemmed in by bodies 12 deep, they weren’t breaking your windows to pull you out, slashing tires to prevent escape, trying to upset the car, or douse it with gasoline to set it on fire. These would all be objective indications of the mob’s intent to kill you. In either scenario, the best response would be to sound your horn: long, loudly and repeated. That is the universal signal for, “Clear the way!” Then, put the car in low gear, and drive ahead at a slow but increasing speed — all while calling 911 if you can. Once clear of the crowd, arrange to meet the cops.
Remember, you will be judged by the standard of the Ordinary, Reasonable Prudent Person (under like or similar circumstances). The court will give this hypothetical person as the measure of behavior the jury must find that you met to be acquitted. You must be able to show the jury that your fear and resulting actions were reasonable under the facts according to your state’s law at the moment you acted. Something like this:
“The mob had my car surrounded as I slowed to a crawl. I distinctly heard several people yell that would kill me. [That is criminal intent]. Just after that, a man shattered my passenger window with a hammer [physical action to carry out the threat] while many men on either side began to rock my car up and down, trying to turn it over. I know our state carjacking law allows the victim to use deadly force to defend himself. At that point, I had no choice to save my life except to escape. I put it in First, blew the horn, and drove out of there. Several blocks away from the riot, I met the police and made a report. At the time, I did not know if I harmed anyone, but it was the only thing I could do to save my life at the moment [reasonable response to an actual, immediate, threat]. “
Now, doesn’t being able to state the law that applies to your case work better than to explain your sheer panic by saying, “I was in fear for my life! They come up to my car a-cussin’ me! And you know what those people do when they’re riled up!”? Juries respond to showing criminal intent by words and actions, then, they can see that your acts were legal (even if you hurt or killed someone) in response.
Of course there are many possible variables in the facts of my two hypotheticals where a slight change in the facts might vary the appropriate response, but even though a situation may turn deadly in few seconds, your response must still be legal. The common law rule is that he who is part of a riotous mob share’s the guilt of the mob, but that doesn’t justify targeting and running down individuals after you’ve escaped the threat. A man blocking you who lifts his shirt to grab a gun in his waistband, though, can be run over in self-defense. Any rioter next to him at that moment, must move it or lose it.
Since criminal acts and our legal response can change in a split second, wouldn’t it be “prudent” to get instruction and to study your state’s laws on self-defense? Relying on, “My uncle was cop, and he told me….” puts your odds of legal success in Probability’s Basement. Lack of honest self-evaluation causes tragedies. Let’s say the family forgets their teenage son went to the movies. He returns at 2:15 am, and, finding the doors locked, tries to climb in his bedroom window. Dad, “fearing for his life” from the apparent burglar, shoots his son. Such accidents have happened.
Whether you carry a gun or keep one for home protection, you have a legal and moral responsibility to only use it safely and judiciously, just like your car. Responsible gun owners will praise you for legally taking out the bad guys and not hurting bystanders. They’ll also thank you for not being “THAT guy” who got in the anti-gun press by doing something stupid. Live and learn according to the law.
Image: By rommy ghaly from Vancouver, Canada – Aftermath.Uploaded by Skeezix1000, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15529596
Greg Hopkins is a recovering lawyer, city prosecutor, police Use-of-Force law instructor, former city judge in two towns and criminal defense lawyer. He’s been teaching the Bible to teens and adults for 40 years. He now trains CCP holders and armed church security teams in self defense law. He also does expert witnessing in firearms and self defense cases. His book is A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism, on the Bible and self defense.