Can I legally close a car door on an annoying pandhandler's hand?

Say I’m walking down the street, and someone starts walking with me, asking for money. He’s polite and respectful, never threatens me or touches me. I tell him no, but he continues walking with me and telling me his story. I reach my car, which is legally parked on a public street, open the door, and get in. He puts his hand on the pillar of the car, and continues to ask me for money. Again, doesn’t touch me, doesn’t threaten me. But now, I cannot drive away without closing the door on his hand. I tell him flat out - I’m going to drive away, move your hand, but he does not. Am I legally in the clear closing the door on his hand, even though it will possibly injure him? What other action could I take - if I call the police, would they come and remove him?

Say it wasn’t his hand on the pillar - say he was standing directly in front of my car, which was parked in a location where the only direction I could go was forward - could I drive forward slowly and push him out of the way, even though that’s likely to cause him a major injury?

No, I don’t need an answer fast. I’m located in Massachusetts, but curious if there are any laws that address this.

Criminal law (both statutory and case law) varies considerably from state to state, and I’m not particularly familiar with Massachusetts law. That said, everyplace is going to be applying some version of a reasonableness standard - that is, the law will be asking “Is it reasonable for you to inflict X level of force, in order to repel this trespass upon your chattel?” (If you wanted, you might possibly replace “trespass upon chattel” with “assault/battery” - at common law, a harmful or offensive contact with one’s “person” is a battery, and that includes such a contact with one’s possessions like a purse or bag. Don’t know if that could extend to a car, but it doesn’t change the reasonableness analysis in any event.)

In this case, it’s hard to see how a harmless (though offensive) contact could justify a use of force sufficient to break bones. Though you’d probably be fine with a lesser use of force - shoving the panhandler with your hand, say - slamming the door on him would probably be seen by most judges and juries as excessive.

I’m not a lawyer, not your lawyer, and so on.

Isn’t the panhandler, in essence, illegallly restricting your freedom of movement? Also, I think if his hand is inside your car, that is something like burglary, or trespass, or something like that, isn’t it? Wouldn’t a ‘reasonable standard’ indicate that if your hand is inside of somebody else’s car, you’d better get it out, esp. when he said he’s driving away?

Couldn’t guess about the in front of car thing, though. I would say he had it coming.
I am not a lawyer, but don’t let that keep you from slamming a door on somebody’s hand!!!:stuck_out_tongue:

To answer one of your questions, yes, you could call the police and have them forcibly stop him from keeping you from leaving (or standing in front of your car). However, this would be a fairly low priority incident, so the police may not show up for a while.

AFAIK, if someone is intentionally obstructing your travel, whether they are threatening you or not, you have a right to get the police involved. What you can’t do, I don’t think, is push the person away, crush their hand in your car door, or run them over, even after you warn them.

BTW, a good rule of thumb for this sort of question generally: If you feel a need to ask if you can get away with something, you probably can’t. It’s usually true in criminal law, and civil litigation - and hell, it’s true in life. Most modern legal systems embrace the norm of “reasonableness” as the sine qua non of lawful conduct - if you’re feeling the need to ask if you can do something, that’s probably because it isn’t particularly reasonable.

Plenty of exceptions (arguably), particularly once you get into more obscure areas of finance law, corporations, and so on. But for everyday life, the law in most modern democracies follows common sense quite well.

I think shoving him away would be a worse solution, for a couple of reasons -

  1. He’s not acting in a reasonable manner, and a shove would be direct physical contact which would put me close enough to him to put me in danger from him - if I close the door, he’s now separated from me. If I get out of the car and shove him, he may grab my arm and I’m now wrestling with him.

  2. Closing a car door is something I’d do anyway - a shove is a separate matter, and may be viewed as assault, since I’m initiating contact.

  3. Didn’t make it clear in the OP - my intent in closing the door isn’t actually to break his fingers. My intent is that when he sees me closing the door, he’ll move his hand away. My question is - what if he doesn’t?

But what if the other person isn’t behaving reasonably? Generally, it’s not reasonable to shoot someone. But if he breaks into your house and is shooting at you, then returning fire becomes a reasonable response. Similar thing here - he’s not behaving reasonably, so what otherwise unreasonable response becomes reasonable?

I don’t think that the OP is asking to ‘get away’ with anything.
If some bum wants to keep his hand inside of your door until you give him money, keeping you from moving your vehicle until he feels like it, or until a peace officer decides to show up, who is the one trying to ‘get away’ with something?
Of course, one could always slam the door and say that he thought that the bum had pulled his hand out. Now THAT would be reasonable.

Why is it not possible to start driving away with the door still open?

As much satisfaction one gets from ridding themselves of an annoying pest like this, I think this seems to be one of the cases where your annoyance does not give you cause to break the law.

Can you normally push people with your car? Can you normally slam people’s fingers in your door?

Since the answer is no, then we would have to look at situations in which this is warranted. And to be honest, being annoying and delaying you isn’t egregious enough to justify breaking the law like this. Libertarians might hate it, but in the above case, I think the only recourse is to wait it out and call the cops. Remember, you have no right not to be annoyed

Isn’t that illegal?


Based on your scenario I would not proceed to my car but to the nearest establishment and enter it. You stand a better chance the person will not follow you inside but seek out someone else. At that point I would proceed to my car. It is less confrontational and probably would take up less time that arguing with someone who will not get our of your way.

Normally, no. But the OP isn’t a normal situation, is it? That is the whole point of the OP. Somebody keeping you from freedom of movement, trespassing onto your property and coercing money is not an irritant. It is a criminal. He is not 'delaying you." Granny calling up to complain of her rheumatism is delaying you. The panhandler is deliberately restricting your rights.
And, like it or not, violence is done to criminals all of the time. Legally.


But you’re begging the question.

The OP asks whether such actions would, in fact, be breaking the law, and instead of answering the question, all you do is tell him he can’t break the law.

Well, no you can’t, which is precisely why the OP asked the question.

But you have a right not to be detained against your will. The question, then, is whether the actions described in the OP would constitute such a detention. Do you have anything, apart from “being honest,” that speaks to the specific legal issue here?

Someone else begging the question.

Noting that “reasonableness” is enshrined in legal statutes doesn’t help us here, because it doesn’t weigh in on what is and is not considered legally reasonable in this particular case.

Also, your notion that, if you need to ask, it isn’t legally reasonable, is completely silly in a thread about issues of legality. The fact is that there are plenty of things that seem reasonable to some people, but are illegal, and things that seem unreasonable to some people, but are legal. What if i asked, “Can i legally shoot an intruder on my property?” The law on this, and on things like the necessity of retreat, vary considerably from state to state, so asking whether it is legal or not is a perfectly logical question, and might have very different answers in different places.

No. Driving with your door open is not illegal in every state. Doors are purely optional in some - Note the popularity of Jeep Wrangers without doors. You have to have a seatbelt and be using it, however.


(I’m sure that was just force of habit!)

Does that fact that the OP is using a car make a difference? What if the panhandler were trying this at a place of residence? I’d feel very uncomfortable having to leave the door to my house open just because the guy put his hand or foot in the doorway.

What the panhandler is doing is widely classified as simple assault (i.e. assault without explicit intent to do harm). You are legally entitled to respond in a manner consistent with that threat; you can, for instance, push the arm away, or state that you feel threatened and declare you willingness to use force if the perpetrator doesn’t desist in his actions. Crushing his hand in the door is clearly out of proportion with the objective level of threat, although depending on his demeanor and relative size, a reasonable person may perceive that the panhandler is a greater threat and act accordingly.

Pushing an unarmed pedestrian with your car is very likely to get you an aggravated assault charge, even if they are intentionally blocking your egress. The reason for this is that there is such a disparity between the ability of the offender and of the defending driver to do harm, and that the driver, enclosed in a lockable vehicle outside of the range of the offender to make physical contact, could not possibly be so threatened as to justify the probable level of injury done to the assailant. However, if the defender had been previously assaulted by the perpetrator or otherwise believed herself to be under significant bodily threat, a jurist may find that there was adequate cause to believe that such force was warranted.

As a practical matter, why the hell would you let someone who behaves in an aggressive manner get so close to your when you are entering your car? In defensive terms, when you are getting into a vehicle, entering a building, or otherwise moving from one environment to another, we call this a transition, i.e. your hands and attention are at least partially focused on manipulating the door, moving parcels from one hand to another, shifting a bag or purse off of your shoulder, et cetera, and this makes you extremely vulnerable to attack. You should never let someone follow you up to your car, even if your intent is to escape from them, as there exists a high likelihood that they’ll be able to intercept you and engage in an attack while you are in transition. In the case of an aggressive panhandler, you want to stop no less than fifteen feet from the car, ready any weapon you may bring to bear (O.C. spray, flashlight, baton, et cetera), turn around and look the offender in the eyes, and make a very clear auditory declaration of attitude and intent, such as, “I feel threatened by your behavior and if you don’t back off now I will have no choice but to defend myself.” (Don’t be specific about the means–if he can’t figure out that you mean business at that point then that is his problem–and don’t brandish your weapon, as that is both threatening and tactically bad.) Even from a small woman, this will dissuade the majority of aggressive beggars as they rely on the compliance and tacit acceptance of the aggressor-victim relationship, which is a good thing because you really don’t want come into close contact with most disease-ridden panhandlers or have them spit or bleed on you. This may not stop predatory criminals posing as panhandlers, and definitely won’t divert the genuine crazies who just don’t perceive reality the way we do, but when their past criminal record comes to light it would be a rare prosecutor who will pursue charges against the intended victim for legitimate self-defense that is proportional with the threat as perceived by a reasonable person.

In general, you should never let a panhandler get with an arm’s reach of you at any time, or turn your back or side to one without attention. Most of them aren’t much more of a threat than an eight year old child, but by letting them know that you are aware of their presence and are in control of the situation you’ll forestall most efforts to intimidate you into complying with their demands.


Something similiar happened to my Mom when I was a small child. We were at my grandparents’ lake cottage. It was just Mom, me, and our large dog Grace. Two missionaries (both young men in suits) came to the door. Mom was polite, but repeatedly told them she wasn’t interested and didn’t want any literature. She was getting nervous. When she went to close the door one of them stuck his foot in so she couldn’t close it. This set Grace off and she attacked him. He ended up in the ER needing stitchs. They sued, but the judge ruled against them (because he stuck his foor in the door and Grace was only doing “her duty by protecting her mistress”) and made them pay costs.

First of all, it is unlikely that the police will quickly respond to such a complaint, or that any citation of significance would result other than the forcible removal of the offender from the path of egress. Personally, if this were on private property, I would first appeal to a security guard or property owner rather than call the police. If this option is not available, I would directly confront the offender verbally. Most panhandlers are not able to withstand the same kind of verbal assault they’ll deliver on someone else, nor do they want public attention, and will desist. If they don’t, the odds are that they’ll get more aggressive (as would most people in that scenario), which may result in a physical confrontation, so the above advice about readying a weapon and stating the condition (i.e. “I feel threatened by your behavior…”) is appropriate. Personally, I just put on my “cop face” and talk in a coldly formal tone that implies rather than explicates threats, and that burns off even the most threatening beggars. A small woman or an elderly man may need a different approach, but just calling the police is unlikely to have effect.

As far as having “no right not to be annoyed”, this is clearly not the case. There are many statutes that are explicitly defined to prevent annoying but not physically or fiscally harmful behavior. Most municipalities have explicit restrictions or prohibitions on panhandling or aggressive shilling, and I’d wager all have a prohibition on intentionally hampering the flow of traffic or interfering with the right of a pedestrian to pass unmolested across public thoroughfares and easements. You have every right to invoke those codes and to take reasonable action to preserve your peace and defend your personal space. This doesn’t mean that you can just plow over any offender, but that doesn’t mean that you have to demur from any assault and dial 911.

If a panhandler has so much as a finger inside your house uninvited that is trespass and all pertinent laws apply. In most states and municipalities, you have greater latitude of the application of violence in self-defense in your home as it is a fixed location, the repository of most of your possessions, and the domicile of your family, all of which are factors into the perception and measure of the threat. Although a few Eastern states take the “duty to retreat” from a threat to an extreme, in general if someone aggressively enters your home (i.e. has not been invited and does not heed commandments to exit it) you have the right to take any reasonable action to remove the offender from it, up to and including slamming the door on their fingers. Few people, outside of really entertaining Christmas action movies, however, will intentionally leave their fingers in a doorjam as the door is swinging closed, and if the offender takes some other action to prevent you from closing the door this is clear criminal trespass and you pretty much have free reign to do whatever you find necessary to close the door. (I find a punch to the throat works well in such situations–hitting them in the solar plexus might cause them to vomit on you, and a kick to the shin or groin is never as reliable as people think it should be.)

Ultimately, you need to do whatever you reasonable believe you need to in order to protect yourself regardless of what the letter of the law reads. At the same time, you need to be realistic about what the threat actually is.