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Explaining the deadly force decision: "the reasonable person doctrine." (self-defense shooting)(part 7)

Lethal (or deadly) force is that degree of force that a reasonable and prudent person would consider capable of causing death or crippling injury. It is justifiable only in a situation of immediate, otherwise unavoidable danger of death or grave bodily harm to the innocent. That situation is created by the simultaneous presence of three criteria: ability (the power to kill or cripple), opportunity (the immediate capability to employ that power), and jeopardy (actions by the opponent that indicate, to a reasonable and prudent person, the suspect's intent is in fact to kill or cripple).

I cannot overemphasize how important it is that every armed citizen understand these core principles. They are the standards by which society and The Law will judge that citizen's use of deadly force.

One of my graduates, a pharmacist, found himself facing the attorneys for "the other side" after he had put an end to a robbery with skillful use of his Colt Diamondback .38 Special. The questioning began with nearly as much charm and tact as the Spanish Inquisition, but it ran out of steam quickly when my student confidently explained how the actions of the criminal combined ability, opportunity, and jeopardy. The defendant explained that he felt the judicious use of deadly force, as justified by his opponent's actions, was his only reasonable and prudent recourse.

I only wish there had been a video camera there to capture the opposing lawyers' startled looks as they said to one another, "My God, he knows the formula!" Suffice it to say, the pharmacist's legal problem went away very quickly.

Reasonability And Prudence

Under Fire?

Take a close look at the testimony given by the pharmacist in the case mentioned above and you'll notice one phrase which appears again and again: Reasonable and prudent. There is a reason for this.

The yardstick of judgement in these matters -- as applied by the court, and therefore by anyone who wants to survive in court -- is known in the common law as the Reasonable Person Doctrine. You may recall from your high school Civics class that our judicial system applies this doctrine, forcing judges and lawyers to ask themselves, "What would a reasonable and prudent person have done in a given situation?"

Actually, if that's all your Civics teacher told you, you've been short-changed. As practiced now in the American Way of Court, the Reasonable Person Doctrine actually asks the following: What would a reasonable and prudent person have done in the same situation, knowing exactly what the defendant knew?

Let's look just for a moment at that phrase, "knowing what the defendant knew." Do you hear the sound of a door being opened here? What was not known to the defendant could not contribute to his or her mindset at the time the trigger-pulling decision was made, and therefore it cannot be shown to the jury by the defense. If that critical information shows up at all, it will be in the sentencing hearing for the dirt bag who threatened an innocent citizen.

However, if the critical information was known to the defendant prior to the pulling of the trigger, that same information is absolutely discoverable evidence in a court of law!

This may sound harsh, but the reasoning behind this rule is very sound. For example, if your customer kills an unarmed attacker with his gun, then learns that the attacker held black belts in karate, judo and tai-chi, the fact will have no bearing on the shooting, even though, in reality, the attacker was quite capable of employing lethal force with just his bare hands. The prevailing argument against your customer will be, "Ladies and gentleman of the jury, he shot and killed an unarmed man. Sure, the victim turned out to be a black belt, but the defendant didn't know that when the gun was fired! Reason and prudence tell us it could have been one of us that was shot, and this is why he is a danger to society and must be found guilty!"

By the same token, the facts which your customer is aware of at the time of the shooting are discoverable because, as the attorneys will argue to the jury, "The key to finding a man guilty of murder is the guilty mind, the culpable mindset. What was in the defendant's mind formed his intent, and his intent is critical to the jury's determination of his guilt or innocence. For this reason the judge allows you, the jury, to know what facts were in the defendant's mind which may have influenced his decision to pull the trigger."

What was in your customer's mind is knowledge that the jury will then share -- that a man 20 feet away can close the gap and kill in a second and a half or less, and that a man as powerful and as skilled as someone with a black belt can kill without a mechanical weapon!

The jury will have days to weigh and ponder what the defendant had but one second to analyze, yet the judge will hold them to the standard the defendant imposed upon himself.

Not surprisingly, there is a little more to the Reasonable Man Doctrine than we have described here. A lot more actually, which is why we'll have to wait until next month's issue of Shooting Industry to finish the explanation of the concept.
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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:What they don't know can hurt you: dealing with the press at the Shot Show.
Next Article:New ideas are the best defense.

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