‘Self-Defense’: You Gotta Know This Before You Use Lethal Force

Written by Greg Hopkins on May 16, 2018

A currently popular video on social media shows a Brazilian robber pulling a gun on a group of women and children outside a business. As he advances, reaching for a lady’s purse, an off-duty female cop pulls her concealed gun and shoots him twice in the chest as he swings his gun toward her. He falls, dropping his gun. She advances, kicks the gun away and retrieves it, then forces him to prone out to wait for an ambulance, holding him with her foot and gun on him. This hero’s action is legal by her country’s and US standards for self-defense. The law in every state requires that as soon as a criminal’s aggression stops, then the level of force by the defender (cop or civilian) MUST reduce accordingly!

Yet, many armchair vigilantes commenting on this video say, “She should have finished him!”. Some say, “So he can’t sue her later.”, as if the multiple witnesses and the video would not provide enough evidence to convict her of murder had she acted illegally. Follow these ignoramuses’ advice to “finish off” a criminal after he has ceased his threat, and I guarantee as a lawyer that you WILL go to prison and WILL be successfully sued!

“Finishing off” a criminal AFTER his threat to you ceases is killing a witness to keep them from testifying. That is a capital murder (i.e., death penalty) charge. How do they know that was your intent when you shot him when he was: down, unarmed, wounded and/or incapable of further attack, or running away after dropping his gun? Because you TOLD the whole world that EXACTLY what you would do and why you would do it on social media, genius! As Darth Vader might say, “The Stupid is strong with this one.”

I want to share some advice with you from my 28 years of legal experience and from a gentleman I refer to as “The Philosopher of Violence”, Marc MacYoung. MacYoung is an author of many books and is a lifetime student, practitioner, and teacher of interpersonal violence. To watch his videos or read his books is to realize that what you thought you knew about the law, self-protection, and street violence is mighty thin, Grasshopper. Every time Marc speaks, I realize how little I know after 38 years of studying self-defense and 29 years as a lawyer.

Specifically, I want to share Marc’s insights from two of his books: In the Name of Self Defense, and What You Don’t Know Can Kill You, with co-author Jenna Meek. (WYDKCKY will be out on Amazon any day now. Marc honored me by having me critique it pre-publication). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. Prov. 1:7. “But he who listens to me (Wisdom) shall live securely, and shall be at ease from the dread of evil.” Prov. 1:33.

Rule number One: when you claim self-defense you are admitting that you in fact committed an assault on another person! First, admitting that means that the cops and prosecutor are halfway home in proving that you’re guilty! UNLESS you can show that your actions were justified by your attacker’s actions and that your violent response fell inside what the law of self-defense allows, you ARE going to prison! Most people get their ideas of “self-defense” from: Hollywood/TV, Internet/Social Media/Chatrooms, their OWN imagination, and what their self-defense instructor told them. Self-defense, however, is a legal term defined solely by your state laws and appellate court cases explaining those laws. You may have a 3rd degree paisley belt in your chosen martial art, but if you have not studied the ethical, legal, and psycho-physiological aspects of self-defense, several things can go wrong. You will not know what the crimes are that your state allows to be stopped with force, and therefore end up fighting instead of legally defending yourself. You may provoke the situation that caused you to be attacked, thus eliminating your legal ability to claim self-defense. You will use too little force and get yourself or loved ones killed, or use too much and kill or seriously hurt someone illegally. Finally, you WON’T be able to explain to the cops, your lawyer, or the jury WHY you acted as you did and HOW it was legal. “How dare he….”, IS NOT a legal defense!

Next, I’ll let you in on a little secret: most (98%) lawyers and judges know nothing about the complexities of self-defense. Self-defense is not taught in law schools. You have to find lawyers like me or experts like Marc MacYoung and Massad Ayoob who are geeks about this stuff. YOU must know enough to educate your lawyer so he can bring in an expert to educate the judge and jury! The jury consists of a spectrum of people: there will be one guy with the “He needed killin’.” mentality and is totally for any criminal getting shot. But you’ll also have the lady who says, “Violence never solves anything.” and can’t believe you hurt “that poor man”. Then there’s 10 others on your jury who are all somewhere on the spectrum between those two and have all this imaginary stuff about self-defense in their heads, whom you must convince that your actions were justifiable. The prosecutor will be there to convince them that you were dead wrong. “The first to plead his case seems just, until another comes and examines him.” Prov. 18:17.

Self-defense is called a “justification” defense. So what does “justified” mean at law? It’s like the doctrine of Justification in the Bible: Jesus bore our sins so that when we join ourselves to Him, it’s “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” Rom. 5:17-18; 1 John 2:1-2. If we act in self-defense, we claim that the criminal was acting at that moment to put life or limb of an innocent person in jeopardy, and the only way to prevent that was by use of the appropriate force. The law considers that the criminal’s guilty act, at that moment, makes his life of less value to society than the life of the innocent person. Therefore, his life may be legally forfeited by his victim or a third person defending that victim, and the defender’s actions are “justified” by the law.

HOWEVER, use too much force for the particular crime, or using force AFTER the threat has passed, and a well-intentioned misuse of force can remove the defender’s justification, and turn his legal defense into a criminal act. Now do you see why “I’d have finished him off!” is a really stupid thing to broadcast to the world on social media? Anyone who says that can and will have it used against him in a court of law to show his intent was not lawful, but criminal. Thus, what may have been an innocent use of force now looks sinister to the cops, the DA, and the jury.

So beware! Self-defense instructors often market their particular brand of fighting or weapon class as “the true religion”. But if they are teaching you “finishing moves” like breaking a guy’s leg or neck once he’s down, you’re being put in the express line to prison. You must seek out legal, moral, and other technical advice in order to give yourself the whole picture when defending yourself or your loved ones. We know that “we fight like we train.” MacYoung says (and this lawyer agrees) that if your training is legally or morally inadequate, you’ll end up charged with a crime! Get Marc MacYoung’s book, In the Name of Self Defense, and his and Jenna Meek’s new book, What You Don’t Know Can Kill You. Study them. You’ll be glad you did.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart, so you will find good repute in the sight of God and man. Prov. 3:3-4.

Image: Excerpted from: https://pixabay.com/en/gun-hands-black-weapon-man-crime-1678989/

Greg Hopkins
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.