It’s been defined as “The use of force to protect oneself or one’s family from real or threatened harm. Generally, a person is justified in using a reasonable amount of force in self-defense if he or she believes that the danger of bodily harm is imminent, and that force is necessary to avoid that danger”. This article will discuss the thought process required for the self-defender to act in a way that complies with the legal definition of justifiable self-defense in the face of a perceived imminent threat of death or great bodily injury.
In deciding to use deadly self-defense in the face of an immediate threat, one will not have the same time available as if one were identifying the elements of a cause of action. Instead, rapidly unfolding circumstances will require a survival decision to be made without the benefit of leisurely, contemplative reflection. So, mastery of the rules of self-defense cannot wait until a threat is actually imminent but must be developed, in advance, through physical training and effective, thoughtful consideration to instill a mindset that that can spring into action, almost reflexively, in the face of an immediate, deadly threat.
Further, intellectual mastery of the rules must be combined with physical self-defense training to avoid the type of paralysis that can be triggered by the pressure of an imminent, deadly threat. Along with mental prowess, the self-defender must be prepared to use physical power and coordination to survive a deadly interaction. So, this article hopes to enable the reader to begin developing the mindset needed to confidently decide when to justifiably defend with deadly force.
Further, one will not have the time, while under the stress of impending attack, to consult and ponder this article. Waiting until an assault to try to understand these concepts may be too late and may paralyze one’s ability to respond in a timely and effective way. So, a serious reader may now want to think about self-defense in the same way that a serious student or athlete conditions and trains well in advance of the examination or competition.
First, the basic rule of self-defense is:
In order to use deadly force for self-defense, one must have an honest and reasonable belief that one is in imminent danger of death or great bodily injury from an unlawful attack, and that one’s acts are necessary to prevent the injury.
So, what is a “reasonable belief”? Because the word “reasonable” is one of the most litigated words in the English language, one’s self-defense actions will need to be grounded in one’s reactions to a specific, perceived threat. That is why it now is so essential to begin to run through possible scenarios so that one may attain the level of threat-sensitivity required to reasonably determine that one is in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily injury. While it will not be legal to shoot someone, who approaches you with a cucumber in his hand, a deadly force response to a threat dangerously approaching with a knife or a gun would seem to be reasonable. This leads us to the AOJ formula.
Ability (of the assailant) and Opportunity (of the assailant) and Jeopardy (to the target). This is the mental calculation and description that one must go through before engaging in deadly force defense but must later be able to explain the decision as being “honest” and “reasonable” at the time the decision was made. In deciding whether one’s assailant had the Opportunity and Ability to inflict imminent, deadly injury, the target’s subjective perception of the impending threat before using deadly force in self-defense will be considered by the investigators. A jury may later decide (assuming the case gets that far) whether your conduct was as reasonable as it appeared to you at the time. So, self-defense arguably will be reasonable and justifiable if the self-defender can explain that the assailant had the Ability and the Opportunity to place the target in Jeopardy.
To adequately assess and then later describe the deadliness and imminence of the threat, one will need to be in a state of heightened awareness. This does not require paranoia but a reasonable level of attentiveness to one’s surroundings. This means soberly watching and listening where one is going and using one’s senses in a normal, unobstructed way: no cell phones or headphones permitted.
Again, understanding and mastering these concepts must be undertaken before the imminent threat presents itself. Waiting until an assault to try to understand these concepts may be too late and may paralyze one’s ability to respond in a timely and effective way.
This article will be continued tomorrow and posted at 5:00 pm on June 30, 2021
Lawrence C. Noble, Esq., provides business, entertainment and asset protection advice and litigation representation. Noble also provides firearms advice and self-defense representation. To that end, Noble is a member of the United States Concealed Carry Association’s Local Critical Response Team in which he represents USCCA members who are involved in justifiable self-defense cases. Noble gives an expanded lecture about these points called Legal Aspects of Defensive Shooing (LADS) in conjunction with the firearms training programs of Readiness Defensive Training, LLC.