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As a general rule no man is allowed to defend
himself with force if he can apply to the law for redress,
and the law gives him a complete remedy.
On this page:
Do your homework | Going to jail for "defending yourself" | Home Defense | Lethal Force | *Self Defense Explained | Using Your Martial Art | Expert Witness
Let us start by stating the 'self-defense' is a legally defined term. And that means it is to those standards that your actions will be judged against. In this harsh light, it doesn't matter what you thought you were doing, what matters is what you actually did.
Before you listen to someone who wants to teach you how to shoot, stab or commando ninja someone, realize that person can be putting you in just as much danger as a potential attacker. You had better know the difference between violence, self-defense and justified use of force There are serious legal issues about using force on another human being.
We recommend you look into the sections on use of lethal force, understand the difference between fighting and self-defense, as well as acquaint yourself to the issues surrounding home defense.
Reality doesn't conform to what you think a "real fight" is, you must conform to the actualities of what violence is, how and why it occurs. And that means what happens before, during and after. All of which extend far, far beyond the microscopic focus of martial arts, reality based fighting systems or women's self-defense programs. If you participated in the creation, escalation and gave cause for violence, then you will be judged to be a participant, not a victim of violence.
Do your homework
My attorney Paul Spiegal has a saying "Everyone knows what something means until there is a problem."
This is a very accurate and wise summation of a problem regarding a word's significance. The reason is each of us have our own -- often unconscious -- definitions and implications of words. Although there is often general agreement, we all have our own personal shadings, connotations and meanings about what a word means. And we often act according to that private definition.
So what you have is a lot of people using the same word, but each meaning something slightly different. When a problem develops, everyone is wondering "what is wrong with the other person." Not realizing that source of the problem is that they have different definitions of the same word and were each acting according to their own definitions. Overcoming these kind of problems is a major focus of communication and management specialists.
Having said this about fuzzy definitions, there are NO gray areas in the meaning of legal terms. They are very specific and exact in what they mean. For hundreds of years these words have been hammered out and defined as people have tried to weasel around them.
As such, it doesn't matter what you think the word means, you will be judged by these established legal definitions. It is up to you to know the definitions of these words and tailor your actions accordingly. That's because just one or two ill chosen words will totally blow your claim of "self-defense" out of the water.
We recommend taking a tour of the legal definitions presented at the Lectric Law Library, read Introduction to Use of Force and consult with an attorney before you even think of using what you know in an actual encounter. While you're at it, check your state AND local statutes and consult with your attorney before engaging in what you think is "self-defense."
Quite simply most people's definition of "self-defense" is looked upon by the law as "fighting" (consensual combat -- look that up too). As such you will be arrested and charged IF you were fighting instead of defending yourself. Also, take a look at the 'Lectric Law Library's outline of the common legal interpretation of self-defense, then compare local interpretation and caveats.
Pay close attention to the "mutual combat" and "quarrel" clauses. As these subtly phrased, but very important clauses, can and will destroy any chance you have of claiming it was "self-defense" if the incident report is written up along these lines. No matter how justified or "set upon" you felt you were, that report is a legal document and will be the source of all legal action.
If you are thinking of carrying any kind of weapon (especially a gun or knife) we recommend you take Masaad Ayoob's, Judicious Use of Lethal Force seminar before you ever pick up that weapon. You will not learn this information in a martial art school. Remember, weapons are like power tools, mistakes happen much faster and are far nastier. Return to top of page
Going to jail for "defending
There is no concern greater to people looking into self-defense than the chance being arrested for "defending oneself." There are several overlapping issues that contribute to this whole morass. We take a look at the idea of going to jail For Defending Yourself
Should you have a gun in the house? We're not going to tell you yes or no. But we will discuss issues involved in Home Defense so you can make an informed decision.
Most people do not understand the standards surrounding the use lethal force. Nor do they understand that this also applies to the use of a lethal force instrument -- even if you don't kill the person.
This isn't legal advice. Legal advice is what you need AFTER you've found yourself in hot water. This introduction to what self-defense is is what you need to stay out of hot water. Self-Defense explained is a layman's explanation on how NOT to cross the line from self-defense into assault.
Using Your Martial
Art to Defend Yourself
This is an excerpt form our book specifically addressing Using your martial arts to 'defend' yourself.
Was it self-defense? NNSD offers expert witness service to attorneys with violence reconstruction.
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