The Use of Deadly Force in Self-Defense

I understand local laws will vary. Nonetheless, someone on the internet got my attention by this puzzling statement.

If I throw a hand grenade at you, and if you survive, you may not shoot me in self-defense as I am unarmed and no longer attacking you.

Now let us throw out what a judge or a jury might do in such a case. Let us throw out the way the law really works. Let us look at the black letters of the law.

Does this statement stand up?

Being in the blast radius of a grenade I am probably injured, and having trouble hearing. You are still a threat to me unless you are running like hell away from me.

I understand, but in the eyes of the law, may you shoot me?

Most self defense laws are written as something like “Reasonable perception of threat of death or serious bodily injury”. Totality of circumstances is always an issue. There are plenty of circumstances where you can use lethal force to defend yourself against an unarmed opponent that are not going to be specifically laid out.

I can see what it’s getting at, but I don’t think it’s as cleverly clear cut as the writer thinks. I mean, if someone attacks you, and then very clearly and definitively renounces their intent to hurt you, you can’t retaliate and call it self defense. But in the example, what would a reasonable person think the intent is? How does the person who just threw a grenade at you convincingly and definitely show you that they are not going to continue attacking you? They seem to have made a very clear indication of an intent to kill you. If your perception that a threat is still imminent is reasonable, you’d have a defense. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t.

Yes. I understand that your perception of the persistence of the threat matters.

Just to clarify what eschrodinger said: Given that you have shown your intent to hurt me, it might be reasonable for me to worry that you have another weapon hidden somewhere. And even if you are clearly unarmed, it might be reasonable for me to worry that you’ll simply attack me with your hands, especially if I was hurt by the grenade and no longer able to defend myself so well.

(Just in case anyone perceives a contradiction between “I’m no longer able to defend myself so well” and “That’s why I can use deadly force”, I mean that there is no middle ground. My fists are worthless, but my deadly weapon is easy to use.)

Do you have any more grenades? Or other weapons? Does the person you attacked know that you don’t have any more? Would they reasonably believe that you have more?

It’d have to go before a court, of course, but the victim’s lawyer would have an easy case to argue that a reasonable person would have thought that you were still armed. After all, who carries a single grenade and no other weapons? People carrying one grenade usually have more, and usually also some form of firearm.

May we agree that a person may not shoot someone who is not currently attacking someone? Of course this hypothetical is silly.

Not attacking other people is the very best way to avoid getting shot for attacking people, in my humble opinion. Of course it’s no guarantee.

No, I do not agree. Just because he is not CURRENTLY attacking someone, that - in and of itself - does not necessarily mean that he’s not an imminent threat who might start attacking again. It all depends on what other factors might be taken into account. If the attacker seems to have relented, that’s one thing; if the attacker is is still on a rampage, that’s quite another thing. Gotta look at the WHOLE picture.

Hey, it all happened in the pass so forget about it? He initiated a deadly attack with a military weapon just seconds ago, of course you can shot back at him. Now if he fled the area but you were able to track him down a saw that he was unarmed and holding up his hands in surrender you might get in trouble for shooting him. That would be up to the jury to decide but I’d think they would take symphony on your mental condition at the time having been brutally attacked by this person.

Thank you all.

Yes. I understand that your perception of the persistence of the threat matters.

This is the key (IMHO, IANAL) Self-defense as a legal defense is based on the perception of a threat and allows an appropriate/proportionate response. So the question is - why did you think the person was still a threat? And did that thinking extend to the belief that your response was reasonable?

There was a case in Toronto a few years ago where a mentally ill person on a streetcar was brandishing a knife. The police officer was convicted for shooting him. The logic was hair-splitting. The fellow was advancing toward the officer, so the officer fired. There was some debate as to real risk, but the court held this was within the officer’s right as a law enforcement officer. Then while the person was lying in the ground still moving, the officer shot him again (several times). The court held that these subsequent shots were not necessary for self-defense, therefore the police officer was guilty. (Manslaughter, I think - some debate ensued over whether the man later died of the first shot or the subsequent shots)

Similarly, there was a case decades ago in eastern Canada where an older man surprised a burglar in his home in the middle of the night. The police charged him with murder because the evidence showed the burglar was shot in the back. The argument was, since he seems to have turned and started fleeing, self defense did not apply. (You have no right to use deadly force just to defend your property, Canada is a civilized country) The defense argued the burglar may have turned at the last minute, when the home owner was in the act of firing. Of course, this is the situation where jury sympathy is a big help. (I think he got off)

But the point is that the self-defense doctrine stops working when the threat of bodily harm is obviously over.

Being armed is neither necessary nor sufficient for use of deadly force in the common law understanding. It is possible to present a reasonable threat to someone’s life while being completely unarmed. That is especially true if there is a disparity of force. Relative size and physical capability matter. Multiple attackers matter since it is harder to defend yourself. Skill matters; the drunk threatening you at the bar after bragging about his last UFC fight is more threatening than me threatening you. My 92 year old, less than 5 foot tall, aunt has a better case to escalate to deadly force when faced with imminent attack by three young men built like NFL linebackers than if the situation was reversed.

Currently attacking is also neither necessary nor sufficient. Nations that fall under the common law tradition typically have a violent crime of assault that relies on making credible threats of an attack or intimidation. No actual attack is necessary. If you are already being assaulted, without an attack, or can justify that the attack is imminent, force can be justified for self defense. Sometimes that will include deadly force. Going back to the hypothetical of my aunt, with the disparity of force involved, she does not necessarily need to wait for the attack to begin if she can make a reasonable argument for why it was imminent. If she carried a gun, she could potentially pull it out and start shooting and still be on firm legal ground.

The hypothetical relies on two standards for self defense that are simply not in the principles that shape self defense law. Sometimes it is legally permissible, to use deadly force even when the target of that force is not currently attacking and not armed.

Ignorance on the internet…shocked I am. Next someone will tell me there is gambling at Rick’s.

Another angle, based on after-action reports from folks I used to work with: someone approaching me with an area weapon (i.e. grenade, IED, etc.) is an immediate threat to myself and those around me (your threat is a little more escalated than just a single bullet). I may take action to stop that threat, to include application of lethal force.

I have trouble with the original statement, because on the face of it, the individual has clearly demonstrated intent and ability to kill me with a hand grenade. Like @Keeve and @Chronos mention, you may have the intent and ability to attempt to kill me or others again. I would argue–if I were that Defense Attorney–that the individual armed with military ordnance or an IED has escalated the situation outside of the “normal” sphere of ‘civilian-based’ attempted murder, and is therefore a continued threat to any rational person. Action against the perpetrator, of course, must be balanced against the case that @md-2000 demonstrates.

IIRC, Common Law started with the Romans. The Romans didn’t have hand grenades.

Has the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch been reliably dated?

I don’t know, but if, per the OP, you lob it at me and just stand there, I’m not going to count to three before I tackle you.

There might be some disparaging comments said about your maternal lineage immediately thereafter–fair warning.

@Tripler: Just do not fail to count correctly.

IMO @DinoR nailed it from end to end. The hypothetical is based on fundamental misunderstandings of both the law and of practical reality.

There’s the rub…

What does that mean?

I have been in bar fights. No one was killed. A bloody lip or two and a few bloody noses.

If I had a gun on me (which I didn’t) when was it ok for me to pull it out and shoot someone?

I am guessing you will tell me it is probably up to the jury and who has the better attorney.