Deadly Force: Is It Worth It?

Whether or not to use deadly force is likely the most serious decision that any of us will ever have to make in our lives. Thankfully, it is simply a statistical fact that only a tiny percentage of people will actually be faced with it.

Some violent encounters happen suddenly, with little time to react, let alone think. The recent YouTube videos of the so-called “knock-out” game and other violent attacks are great reminders of this fact. An innocent victim is suddenly and completely surprised, either by a mugger, a rapist, or even a home invader. At that point, one is totally dependent on their training and skill.

However, in many cases where self-defense is claimed, the situation is one that evolves less rapidly. A series of smaller, seemingly insignificant decision points leads up to the moment of truth. As a result, the jury sees the victim as having more than enough time to make a choice that could have easily allowed him/her to avoid the threatening situation, before it became necessary to use deadly force.

The numerous “road rage” cases we’ve seen over the years are excellent examples. In these cases, the victims were convicted because, at one or more points in the sequence of events that lead to their use of force, they had the option to simply disengage. Some guy does something with his vehicle that the defendant didn’t like. So what? Let it go.

I am always astonished at how anyone who legally carries a gun could possibly let himself or herself get involved in a road rage incident. What positive outcome does he or she actually expect? In a famous case here in Minnesota, an angry carry permit holder leaned on his horn and “flipped off” another driver, which lead to a confrontation in which he ended up shooting and wounding the other motorist.

Unfortunately for the permit holder, the person he shot was an off-duty cop. Even though the cop had actually brandished his gun, the best deal the defendant could get was felony aggravated assault, costing him prison time, loss of his right to vote, and loss of his right to even own a firearm, let alone carry one. I always wanted to ask him, “Was it worth it?”

Then there are the recent cases of homeowners leaving the safety of their homes to confront suspected intruders in their garages. These are additional examples of making bad choices, long before any threat to them or their loved ones existed. In one case, the homeowner was convicted in less than an hour. In the other, in which a young boy was shot and killed, the homeowner has yet to be brought to trial. I don’t give the defendant in that case much chance of prevailing either.

Honestly, I don’t care what your state law says about using deadly force to protect property. Why anyone would risk his or her physical safety and potential criminal prosecution over “stuff” is simply beyond me.

A hard-nosed veteran criminal attorney once told me, “Before you do anything risky, ask yourself three questions. Is this worth dying for? Is it worth killing for? Is it worth going to prison for?”

The bad decisions that we make can turn what should have been a simple matter of filling out a police report into a long and expensive criminal trial, with potential prison time as a result.

So, before leaning on your horn, or walking out that door, ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

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