In the previous post, the element of innocence was discussed. We continue with the discussion on how your innocence in the fight could be lost, resulting in losing a key element in a self-defense claim. Remember, if you are viewed at the attacker or aggressor in the incident, your actions are NOT in self-defense.
An attacker attempts to punch you as you walk down the sidewalk. Because of your alert condition, you block the punch and strike the attacker in the face. The attacker curses at you and runs away. Your anger at the attack overcomes your reason and you chase after the attacker and corner him behind a building. You get into a heated verbal argument and punch the attacker two or three more times as he pleads for you to stop. Was it a case of self-defense on your part as the defender or were you the attacker? The answer is yes; you were the defender and the attacker.
Let’s look at why. The attacker walked up to you attempting to punch you. Without provocation, out of nowhere. You don’t know this person. You recognized the coming attack, block the punch and strike the attacker in the face. During this part of the incident, you were the defender and your use of force was lawful. You overcame the force necessary to prevent your injury and the attack.
The attacker flees after your successful defense. You decide to pursue the person and corner them, punching them as he pleads you to stop. You have now changed from defender to attacker. What you have done is pursued the person and re-kindled the fight. One of the most common ways a person loses their innocence is lost when a defender pursues an attacker, or leaves and then returns.
Most state criminal codes allow you to use the amount of force to overcome the force being used against you to stop an attack, that is it. If you pursue or restart the fight, you lose the element of innocence. You are now the attacker.
You were the defender during the initial attack, but you were the attacker during the second part of the fight.
Let’s look the next way. You’ve seen the cowboy movies of old where one cowboy challenges another and at high noon, they meet in the middle of the street in front of the saloon where the one fastest on the draw wins.
This is called mutual combat. If you agree to fight another ahead of time, either explicitly or implicitly; you cannot claim self-defense. A real self-defense incident only occurs when one party starts the fight against the wishes of the other participant.
So, someone slaps you in the face. Nothing more, they don’t pull out a knife or gun, they just slap you. In your anger, you draw your gun and shoot the person. What you have done is loss your innocence because you have escalated the fight from a non-deadly force fight into a deadly force fight. Escalation happens when the fight goes from a non-deadly force fight into a deadly fight force fight.
Can you regain your innocence if you have lost it during a self-defense incident? Yes, you can. Withdraw from the fight and verbally express your intention to withdraw. A person running away from a fight is constructively communication to the other person that they are withdrawing from the fight. It is recommended that when you withdraw, the verbal expression is loud and clear so that others can hear. Every state recognizes this action.
Summarizing steps for not being labelled the attacker if you have to defend yourself:
- Maintain a good reputation and demeanor for being cool-headed, not easily provoked. If you don’t have this reputation or demeanor, change it; it is never too late.
- Grow a thick hide. Stick and stones can break my bones, but …. Practice this principle in your daily lives.
- Learn how to de-escalate through your words and behavior.
- The best fight is the one you avoid.
- Don’t go to stupid places.
- Don’t hang around with stupid people.
- Don’t do stupid things.
Be the adult!
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”– Proverbs 17:27 (ESV)