Monday, June 3, 2013

A Warrior's Guide to Self-Defense Law: 2 - Defending another from lethal force

Self-defense law can be a daunting block of text, but it is also the only thing that will separate your actions between "justified personal protection" and "manslaughter". In this post, I offer a comprehensive overview of Illinois self-defense laws as they pertain to a variety of scenarios, all from the perspective of a lifelong Chicagoan and semi-experienced martial artist.

Introduction: "Justifiable use of force" and martial arts
Chapter 1: Defending yourself from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 2: Defending another from death or great bodily harm
Chapter 3: Defending yourself from nonlethal, unlawful use of force
Chapter 4: Defending another from nonlethal, unlawful use of force

All sections include both a "Simple Summary" of the relevant laws, a detailed discussion, and some illustrative examples. Note that these examples are NOT exhaustive and NOT prescriptive. There are always exceptions and complications to every situation presented. I give them as a good starting point to get you thinking, not as legal advice. Finally, as an all-important disclaimer, I am not a lawyer. This post does not constitute legal advice. For the final word on legal issues, talk to a police officer or a lawyer in your city. 

 ~CHAPTER 2: DEFENDING ANOTHER FROM DEATH OR GREAT BODILY HARM~
SIMPLE SUMMARY
If another reasonably appears to be in immediate and imminent fear of death or serious bodily harm, and there appear to be no other ways for them to avoid or escape, then you may intervene with force that is likely to kill or severely injure their attacker IF such force is necessary to protect the victim. Once they are safe, you must stop using such force.

Observant readers will have noticed that Section 7-1 also allows for that same use of force in defense of another ("...such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against..."). On the surface, this seems like a simple reapplication. If you see another in serious danger, you are allowed to intervene and save the day! Indeed, because the law doesn't say anything else on the topic, we might be tempted to just leave it at that and go out saving victims across the city.

It turns out that defending another adds an additional layer of complication. It can be difficult to determine what constitutes a "reasonable belief" of danger for yourself. That becomes infinitely more challenging when trying to determine it for another human being. Of course, in some cases it will be clearer. If you witness your neighbor being assaulted on her front porch in the middle of the night, you have great legal license to intervene. But in other cases, you will not know whether your actions are "necessary to prevent" harm.

Let's consider an armed robbery. If I see someone being robbed down the street from me, is he really in imminent danger? Can I really know that? If I intervene and the gun goes off, hitting the initial victim, is that my fault or the fault of the attacker? As a bystander, I definitionally have limited and/or different information than a victim. That information may not be enough to conclusively act on.

Similarly, you might not always know the full story behind a crime. This happens a lot in ongoing fights. Maybe the "victim" getting punched into the ground was actually an armed attacker ten seconds before you rounded the corner. His "attacker" might actually be successfully defending himself. Because you were not involved in the outbreak of this incident, you do not have ample information to assess whether or not there is "imminent" danger, or whether your intervention is "necessary to prevent" such danger.

But as stated earlier, there are definitely circumstances under which you would have a moral tug to intervene. Ongoing sexual assaults are one, as are most crimes involving child victims and adult attackers. Blatant robberies (such as iPod muggings on CTA trains) also come to mind, along with the random acts of group violence you sometimes see in downtown Chicago. There are some martial and tactical considerations you also need to work through (Do you really want to fight a mob of 10-15 attackers?), but you would have legal clearance to engage and intervene in these situations. You would still have to select the appropriate level of force, but any of those could very well justify a high one.

In conclusion, if you can both a) determine that another victim is in imminent and immediate fear for their life and b) that your intervention is the only thing that might save them, then you have legal permission to intervene to help them. In doing so, the prerequisites of personal self-defense still apply. You may only use the minimum amount of force needed to stop the attack (which may well be lethal force), and you must stop once the threat has been neutralized or has fled.

Defending another from death or great bodily harm: Simple Summary
  • If another reasonably appears to be in immediate and imminent fear of death or serious bodily harm, and there appear to be no other ways for them to avoid or escape, then you may intervene with force that is likely to kill or severely injure their attacker IF such force is necessary to protect the victim. Once they are safe, you must stop using such force. 
Scenarios in which use of deadly force MIGHT be justified
  • You witness a woman being assaulted in front of her apartment.
  • Two attackers draw and hold a knife or gun on an elderly man or woman.
  • A man tries to drag a child into his car (TRICKY. Is it a parent?)
  • A mob of attackers surround, pull to the ground, and start beating a pedestrian.
  • A gun-wielding attacker fires on a group of individuals in a park. 
  • A small group surreptitiously lights fires around an occupied home, i.e. arson with homicidal intent.
 Scenarios in which use of deadly force is PROBABLY NOT justified
  • Two guys get into a bar fight. (You have no idea who the aggressor is)
  • A young man grabs a CTA passenger's iPod and runs off the train. (No one is in imminent danger)
  • A small group of kids beat up another kid in a playground. (Lethal force is not "necessary" to stop the beating)
  • A child is slapped by an adult that looks to be his/her parent. (Unclear aggressor. Call the Department of Child and Family Services and/or 911)
  • A large brawl breaks out between 15-20 kids in the middle of an intersection. (Call 911. Take shelter)
  • You witness someone trying to break into a car or apartment window. (Call 911 and shout for help. If you must intervene, lethal force is not necessary to stop a break in).
  • You witness two or three individuals wrestling with someone on the street.(Unclear aggressor. 911! Make a commotion!)

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