Great article written by Hock Hochheim
Crossing that Defense to Offense Line
These days, we in the American public have much to think and talk about in terms of self defense. How far can self defense go? When does legal self defense cross the line over into illegal self “offense?” I could tell you of many a case I've investigated through the decades when victims became suspects, by overdoing their actions, over-shooting, over-stabbing, over-axing, over-clubbing, over-stomping, kicking and beating an attacker….crossing that line.
On many occasions, such as a recent case in Florida - a victim left a death threat, went to her car, and returned with a gun, shooting at an attacker. This type of incident is quite common, but prosecutors and jurors have always held that if a person can get to their car? They should leave in that car! Take note of this! Going to your car and getting your gun or knife, changes the complexion of your situation and is not self defense. Defense became offense. This woman crossed the line and was convicted of assault.
Look at the other mess in Florida, the Trayvon/Zimmerman tragedy. At what point do you decide you have been downed and beaten enough before you forego all other forms of self defense, draw and shoot an unarmed attacker? The world is a nail and the handgun is the hammer. Has a line been crossed? Riot lines will be.
I recall a sad case I worked where two teenagers fought in a party over a girl. A jumped, teen on his back on the floor, deeply gauged the eyes of a teenager over him that was punching him. The wounded boy was permanently blinded. The attacked “defender” crossed the line and was convicted of aggravated assault. You just can't ravage the eyeballs of each and every attacker who confronts you.
I recall the woman who axed her husband's mistress. She claimed the mistress attacked her in her home. The axe was handy. The system could have understood one or two axe blows in self defense, but over 30? The defender crossed the line. She was charged with murder.
I recall a resident, washing his car in his driveway and was threatened and shoved by a neighbor. The resident reached for a baseball bat in the garage and hit the neighbor. The system would have understood a bat strike or two in self defense. But 18 of them? The defender crossed the line. The neighbor was severely injured. The resident was charged with aggravated assault.
A police officer shoots a man hitting him. The officer, totally untrained and unskilled in hand to hand combat, who shoots 50 bullets once a year for qualification, resorts to the only muscle memory he's been given. BANG! The world is a nail and the handgun is the hammer. He crossed the line. He is browbeaten by the press, demonstrated against, sued multiple times, multiple ways and quarantined from police work.
The line crosses over into training. A “reality-based” martial arts school teacher crossed his arms and proudly growls “that'll show those bums not to bother people,” when one of his students wiped out an over-aggressive, pan-handler asking for money on a parking lot. The bum was hospitalized. Broken bones. The student is charged with aggravated assault and convicted. He crossed the line. But the instructor was proud?
A martial arts instructor opens a school called “The Lethal Force Academy.” What is he thinking? A self defense instructor runs rampant with his mouth and in advertisements, and then finds himself barred from entering other countries for being a vigilante. Other instructors try to talk tough blood and guts in public, but if you've expressed years of cavalier talk about easy violence in articles, pod casts or on Facebook, they will find it. If you shoot your mouth off routinely? You are not a professional. Period. Exclamation point. You are a circus act. You and yours are ticking time bombs if anyone actually uses your training in real life.
I could go on and on about this with hundreds of case examples of crossing the line in real life, in ads, or in training, but the controversies go even further. Take for example this hair-splitting situation in the photo. You have disarmed the knife attacker. On paper, as soon as the attacker loses his weapon, the situation changes. Many armchair reviewers will claim you no longer can be as violent, or use deadly force as you could scant seconds before on an unarmed man. To do so is crossing the line? But, think about this, now there is a gun or a knife on the floor, easily reached and you are still moving around and fighting for your life. It is still very much a deadly force situation. Explain this properly.
The “judged by 12, carried by 6” flashy, shallow line perpetuates the overkill myth (by the way, DO NOT arrogantly quote that line to the police or repeat in court while on the stand. Trust me on this). Whether it be American law, or European law, Australian, Canadian, or the laws of most countries, or whether it be the use of force rule of police and correctional standards, or the military rules of engagement, we still hear the tenant ''force no more than absolutely necessary.” When it comes time to be judged by that wicked, usually ignorant, half-asleep “jury of one's peers,” that “use-necessary force” mantra is always chanted. Imagine the difference between a jury in the Piney Woods of East Texas and a vegan jury in Berkeley California. This brings a whole new meaning to the word “peers.”
In policing and in the legal, gun-carrying world, it has always been advisable to "shoot to stop, not to kill." Never say kill, for all the aforementioned reasons. In fact, the law enforcement model is a good legal standard for citizens to follow. Remember when the police fist or gunfight with someone, and the suspect is hurt when the event is over, they always call an ambulance. This is somewhat situational too, but this the professional standard. The attacker's "well-being" is really not my main point here, or often the true goal. It is still actually YOUR well-being for which I speak now, so that you can best survive AFTER the attack. You should do what you have to do, then stop doing it when its time to stop, based on the situation.
All this violence leaves you where? Sometimes okay. Sometimes in jail. Sometimes sued. Usually marred mentally and, or physically marred and often with a hefty legal bill, unless you escape from the scene and then you'll be a fugitive for awhile, or a war criminal or sought after for revenge?
It is very hard to split legal hairs, during the splitting of heads. Hard to see the invisible line the law does not want you to cross. Each case of self defense is highly situational. Who, what, where, when, how and how? Who are you, your size, age, shape, strength, gender compared to the attacker? Who is the criminal, what is the attacker doing, where is it happening, when is it happening, how and why? Tens and tens of big and small questions must be asked and answered.
"It is very hard to split legal hairs, during the splitting of heads."
If you do the right thing, you must explain and record why, like the example of the loose knife or gun on the floor that I offered earlier. Believe me, all these questions will be asked when considering your fate. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has taken the “given what you knew at that instant” approach when reviewing acts of citizen or police violence and safety.
We all like vigilantes in books and movies, but you probably won't like being one in real life. There's a line. Know the line. Try not to cross it. If you are real survivor, you'll train to survive the aftermath.