Updated: May 29, 2020
By Steve Westfall
U. S. Secret Service – Retired
Self-Defense Law Instructor
Do you have an interest in self-defense? Are you a police officer? Do you keep a firearm at home for home defense? Do you carry any defensive tools or a firearm even sometimes? Have you taken any firearms training courses or self-defense classes? In any case, are you fully prepared to legally respond to a threat from someone even in your neighborhood or, God Forbid, getting targeted by a criminal?
Winning the physical fight is first and foremost! You must win/survive the fight or everything else is of pretty low priority, right? Police get good training to win a physical fight at the academy. As a civilian, maybe you have prepared to win the physical fight by martial arts orfirearms training, etc. Good for you! Assuming you win the fight, there is the second fight (the legal fight) you must also win. Your self-defense law knowledge prior to an incident can save your liberty, your wallet, and life as you know it.
Self-defense law is not all that difficult or tricky. There are five fundamental legal elements. They are Innocence, Imminence, Proportionality Avoidance, and Reasonableness (covered in later blogs). Whether you are a police officer or civilian, if you have trained or are training in any kind of self-defense mode, and the instructors are not talking about these fundamentals, then you are not getting the information you need. That puts you at risk for getting in serious legal trouble when you make a mistake out of ignorance.
After a self-defense incident, police usually have an extra layer of review. Police departments usually have a “review board” of some kind. They can help an officer by having his/her actions viewed by an “unbiased” group. Prosecutors can be heavily influenced by their findings. Civilians are pretty much on their own. A civilian defender and his/her attorney will have to present their narrative of an incident without any filters.
Here are some reasons why knowledge of the law is so important.
1. As above, you must win the physical fight – fine. However, shortly after any use-of-force incident, the judicial system will enter the picture and be there to judge your conduct. Were your actions self-defense or were they criminal? Will you walk free, or will you face a trial that will affect the rest of your life? Those questions alone should alert you enough to seriously consider studying the laws that can keep you out of legal trouble!
2. There are only five basic elements that constitute self-defense law. Did you know that if a prosecutor can show that you did not follow the rules of even one element, your self-defense claim will collapse – no self-defense claim will be allowed. That could be very bad! A jury will never hear the words “self-defense”.
3. If you are prohibited from presenting a defense of self-defense in court, that means you will have to face any underlying criminal charge (from assault to murder) naked – with no legal excuse/justification for your actions. That can make it an easy case to win for the prosecutor.
4. It doesn’t matter if you violate self-defense laws out of ignorance, panic, or negligence. The result will be the same. The legal system is very intolerant of mistakes. A conviction could set you up for a long prison sentence, financial ruin, or both!
5. Prosecutors want to win cases. They need to keep their percentages of wins high (90% - 95%). Their job could depend on it. If prosecutors see your case as hard to win, that would be to your advantage. Your case may go in the very low priority file or just closed without action. Your knowledge of the law can help you stay within the legal boundaries and make a conviction seem too difficult.
6. It is critical to have a basic understanding of laws of your state and the underlying legal elements recognized nationally. You can’t rely on unreliable sources that commonly lead to myths and misconceptions. That is a recipe for disaster! There is no substitute for a study of the facts.
7. You can help in your own defense. If your case ever gets to court, it will take all the efforts of you and your attorney to win. The more you know the more you can help. Sadly, not all attorneys are familiar with this area of law. It is just not given much time in law schools. Don’t expect your brother-in-law real estate attorney to give you much help. If your attorney hasn’t had significant experience defending clients in self-defense cases, he/she could sink your case out of in-experience. Please, never attempt to act as your own attorney in court. However, it is possible to have enough knowledge to advance your own case positively.
In future blog posts, the legal fundamentals will be presented here in summary format. For additional self-defense information, visit selfdefenselawfacts.com. Include the url in contacts with friends.
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