Factors of Self-Defense

I use this so much, I figured I’d make it a static page.

In most states, to use lethal force in self-defense, you have to convince people – the cops, the prosecutor, and if that fails, the jury – that you met most or all of the following critera.  Which criteria, and exactly how you have to meet them, depends on state statute, case law and, let’s be honest, the mood of the electorate that’ll be voting for the county prosecutors.

But as a pragmatic matter, most of them involve meeting the following criteria:

You Can’t Be The Aggressor:  You can’t start a fist fight, and then pull a gun when someone pulls a knife.  It can go way beyond that, of course; in a recent Minneapolis case, a group of men at a “Black Lives Matter” protest who shot at people chasing them outside in self-defense – lost their case largely because the prosecutor showed the jury – the “reasonable people” – video they took on their way to the event bragging about wanting to mix it up with protesters.

You Must Be In Reasonable, Immediate Fear of Death or Some Significant Harm:  Each word means something.  The fear must be immediate – if someone says “I’m going to stab   you – in an hour”?  That’s not immediate.  “Reasonable” means “a jury will believe it”.  Death is obvious; the level of harm that also justifies self-defense varies by jurisdiction.  In some states – Minnesota is an example” – the standard is “Great Bodily Harm”, which means losing a faculty, severe disfigurement, maiming or cripping.   Rape (of a woman) will also usually count.  Many other states use “Serious Bodily Harm”, which is a lower standard.

The Force Used Must Be Reasonable:  You may only use lethal force until the threat you perceive above is over.  You can shoot until your attacker/s fall over, but you can’t finish ’em off when they’re on the ground bleeding out and unconscious.

You Have a “Duty To Retreat”:   You must make a reasonable effort to disengage from the situation.   “Reasonable” means reasonable; if you are a woman pushing a stroller, you are not expected to abandon the baby.  If you are a sixty year old guy with a cane, beset by two twenty year old robbers with clubs, you are not expected to try to outrun them.

  • “Castle Doctine” laws (or, as in Minnesota, case law) means this doesn’t apply in the home (in some other states, it may mean some other definition of one’s own property).
  • “Stand Your Ground” laws mean this doesn’t apply anyplace where you have a lawful reason to be; you are presumed innocent as regards your duty to retreat.  But you still have to prove the other three factors, above!)

Disclaimers:  I’m not a lawyer.  I’m a guy who’s been through carry permit training three times, and has extensive discussions on the subject with some of the best carry permit instructors in Minnesota – in my own self-interest.

If you wish to own or carry a firearm for self-defense, it is your job to become familiar with the laws involved in your jurisdiction.

If you are a reporter covering this issue, it also behooves you to learn the facts – although this post likely contains more valid information than you have gotten anywhere else.