Limits of use of force in self-defense?

I was reading a Slashdot thread about an incident debated in this thread. One of the commenters had this to say:

It’s clear that the poster thinks he was well within his rights to do so. But a UK responder said that he’d have been charged with assault in the UK - there are laws there that make illegal “unreasonable force,” even in self-defense.

What sort of laws are there of this sort in the US? How many of those would have caused this guy to be charged with a crime?

Unless you feared further attacks by the store staffer, responding to his actions with force isn’t really self-defense. Now, grabbing your item back might be permissible, but absent his initiating further physical contact with you, it’s not really self-defense.
I’m not arguing that it’s not legal self-defense here, as I’m not out to give legal advice. I’m rather submitting that it is not self-defense per a layman’s definition of self-defense.
Your desire to retaliate is probably closer to a desire to defend your honor, not your person. As such, you may wish to carefully check local statutes for any rights you migt have.
I suspect use of force is not among them, unless you want to discuss citizen’s arrest as an option.
Dueling has fallen out of favor in recent years.
Given that there’s no risk of escape on the part of the store staffer, I’d submit that calling the cops and asking them to treat the incident as assault and battery [or local equivalent] would be the limit of your capacity to respond personally.
After calling the cops, I’d also consider immediately travelling to a medical care provider, having them inspect the injury, and then contacting my choice of personal injury attorneys. Normally this would be a silly step, but given the deep pockets of the retailer, they might just roll over and settle with you.

These things vary greatly state by state. But, as a general rule “reasonable force” is proportional and is limited to that which deflects an imminent threat of unlawful force.

In the above situation, what imminent threat of physical harm can reasonably be perceived that justifies striking the security drone?

The above is the approach of the Model Penal code, which is adopted to some degree in 35 states, and virtually in its entirety in New York.

Missed the edit window.

The relevant section of the MPC is 3.04. I don’t know how many states have enacted it as law.

Without knowing the full details, the asshole grabbing the bag and causing injury is assault. Now if you have time to stop and think about the consequences and situation, maybe the reaction may not be justified. But you don’t have that time – you’re in the middle of a perceived attack, and if you’re slow, you die. If you’ve ever had any type of formal, real, legal, self-defense courses, you know you’re taught to react given the opportunity. While I think it will be impossible to arrive at a real GQ answer to the OP, and given only the one-sided testimony as posted by a third party in the OP, I’d acquit the poor shopper if he were brought up on such ridiculous charges, and I’d certainly vote guilty for the store guard. Again, given the limited “facts” as presented.

It might be tough to convince a judge or jury that a guard grabbing a customer’s bag constitutes a threat to the customer’s life.

If I thought I was going to die, I wouldn’ t be kicking the guy in the nuts.


The use of force (up to and including the use of deadly force) is one of the many things covered in the Texas Concealed Handgun License class. As mentioned, the laws are going to vary by state, so I can only speak for Texas here.

Basically, you can use the threat of force if you could actually use force in the situation.

To use force, the actor must reasonably believe force is immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm. In self defense, one is not justified by using force in response to verbal provocation alone, to resist a peace officer making a lawful arrest, if the actor consented or if the actor provoked the use of force (unless the actor abandons the encounter or indicates his intent to abandon the encounter.)

To use deadly force, the actor is justified if: he is justified in using force, as above, and if he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary to a) protect himself from the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force, or b) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.
It should be noted that the law used to mandate that the actor had a duty to retreat, if a reasonable person would have done so. That changed in the last legislative session, which struck the duty to retreat (resulting in Texas being a “castle doctrine” state.)

Deadly force can also be used in defense of a third person, if the actor reasonably believes he would be justified in using deadly force to protect himself in that situation, and believes that his intervention is immediately necessary to protect the third person.

Finally, force and/or deadly force can be used to protect property. Deadly force is justified when the actor reasonably believes the use is immediately necessary to prevent the other’s commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime and is escaping with property that cannot be protected or recovered by any other means. The actor must also reasonably believe that a lesser use of force would result in substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

In the OP, I’d say that once the initial encounter was over (the security dude had grabbed the bag, regardless of whether it drew blood or not) the risk of serious bodily injury was over. Using force against the security dude after that was not justified - both parties were guilty of assault, and possibly battery.

In a split-second, fight-or-flight situation, one cannot be thinking about the legalese, so to boil it down to essentials: in Texas, one can use force to prevent immediate harm; one can use deadly force if one would be justified to use force, and reasonably believes that using deadly force will prevent death or serious bodily injury of himself or a third party.

Based on what you just outlined in Texas law, you might be able to make an argument that your use of force was an attempt to protect your property rights.
I would rather have a better argument than that when I stepped in front of a judge.
That being said, if I had some easily concealed and expensive gold jewelry that I’d bought somewhere BESIDES the store in there, I would have some concern as to permitting the store staff to rummage through my parcel. Still, the use of force outlined by the OP would be over the line for even that. If he’d confined his response to grabbing the parcel back or controlling the hands or arms of the clerk it would be closer to legit. Still very, very stupid. If the employee swiped my jewelry I’d just stand right next to him, call the cops and prevent him from escaping using the minimum needed force.

Would the doorman grabbing the bag constitute robbery or attempted robbery? He’s attempting to deprive the customer of possession of the goods, using illegal force.

It would probably help if the item in question was a purse or backpack and not a store bag…

Sounds far-fetched. How often have a door guard’s actions been legally judged to be robbery?

Granted statle laws vary on the probable cause issues WRT bag checkers. If the bag checker initiated some kind of physical struggle to remove the product from your possession I do not believe deadly force would be justified under more than a handful of states if any, however unarmed attempts to retreive your belongings resulting in serious discomfort but minimal injury would seem to be more than reasonable.

Considering this is an employee of a company, I would say hitting him was more than a wee bit overboard considering being injured in any way by a compusa employee in this manner would probably be a personal injury lawyers wet dream.

Bringing in management and demanding

A: Your purchases back, money refunded, and you keep the item.
B: A written apology from said manager for the incident, delivered to you before you leave the premises. Including a promise in writing to provide copies of all security camera footage of the incident and compensation for medical treatment WRT this incident.
C: Copies of any incident reports related to this event.

Consider telling manager that all of this could be forgotten for a $10,000 compusa gift card.

Are you KIDDING me!!??!?!?!?! I mean really. It’s people like this guy that clog our judicial system and plague law enforcement with idiotic, “I know the law” bulls**t.

In the scenerio posted, the security had a reasonable suspicion to believe she has committed the crime of theft. He has a legal right to use physical force to prevent the theft. The same law applies to people being asked to leave a bar or other ‘open to the public’ establishment. The bouncers have the legal authority to grab you by the collar and escort you out. If you in turn, attack him, he may use whatever force is necessary to defend himself. The courts, my friend, will rule in favor of the employee as long as the force the employee exerted was not beyond the reasonableness standard.

Obviously, the mature adult thing to do when in this situation is not to act guilty and try to conceal your bag. Simply state that you will walk with him back to the office and wait there for him to call police. Once the police arrive, they can get to the truth. Obviously, at some point, SOMEONE is going to need to look in the bag to CONFIRM a crime has not occured. Look up Terry v. Ohio.

In civil court, all bets are off. You can sue anyone for anything. Its just how much of an ass you want to make yourself out to be.

I wish people would just grow up.

All this because you THINK you’ve been wronged and you see dollar signs. REGARDLESS of the truth. Sure, they may pay out to get rid of it, but the cost is passed on to all of us other shoppers who end up paying higher prices.

Insert a winky smiley after the last line.

In GQ I will generally assume that the OP is being straightforward with his statements. Assuming a security person snached a bag causing injury with no other evidence to support his actions beyond your refusal to participate, you have a serious problem before you. We as consumers have the power to teach corporations lessons WRT their behaviors. IF the costs of CompUSA’s legal defenses force their prices out of fair market value, other places with fewer legal entanglements will rise up in their place.

You put a price on personal liberty???

Faced with an ovezealous door guard, which of these two is more likely to encounter personal liberty problems:

  1. The guy who reacts calmly and rationally
  2. The guy who quickly resorts to violence

Odd, lately there have been at least three stories on this EXACT circumstance over on Reddit. I will go look for them now.

Couldn’t find them. Either way, the store was in the right to stop the person who refused to show their receipt, even use minor force to do so.

I don’t understand how anyone could believe that the security droid had “reasonable suspicion” that a crime had been committed. Failure to comply with the request of a store employee does not create “reasonable suspicion”. Did the security droid witness the commission of a crime?

There are many loss prevention guides on the web. They go into detail on how to do things in a way that will stand up in court and not get the store sued into the stone age. The security droid should have been fired, as should whoever was responsible for his training and supervision.