How many times have you been in a situation that you did not want to be in and yet you were? Probably one of the first thoughts to come to mind is: “Is this happening?”
What usually is happening when your mind goes to this question is that you are faced with something that has made you afraid, that you are going to be hurt and it is something beyond your control.
The next element needed for a lawful self-defense use of force is referred to as “Imminent Danger.” You are driving down a highway at speed and an approaching car loses control and slides into your path of travel. You apply the brakes hard, but the oncoming vehicle is going to hit you head-on. The fear and danger you are experiencing is imminent.
In Andrew Branca’s excellent resource “The Law of Self-Defense;” he goes into detail on what will be a general overview of this element. I can not emphasize enough Branca’s book being a must read for you.
Imminent danger is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as immediate danger, such as must be instantly met, such as cannot be guarded against it, calling for the assistance of others or the protection of the law as otherwise defined, and such an appearance of threatened and impending injury as would put a reasonable and prudent man to his instant defense.
If you have been blind-sided by a punch from someone and that person runs off ending their attack, the threat is no longer imminent. Remember, you can not rekindle the fight with that person, because you lose your innocence, because you are now the aggressor.
Now how can you articulate and evaluate whether the threat rises to the element of imminence in real time? The tool provided by self-defense expert Massad Ayoob and attorney Branca is known as the “AOJ Triad.”
The acronym AOJ stands for the three elements that articulate imminent danger. They are:
- Ability. Does the attacker have the ability to hurt you? It is about what type of force the attacker can use. Is it a gun, bat, knife, or other type?
- Opportunity. Can the attack get to you? Again, this depends on what the attacker is armed with. If it is a handgun or rifle, the attacker’s opportunity to attack you from a distance is greatly magnified. Two factors are considered which are distance and obstacles. So, you can understand that the weapon the attacker is armed with has significance on their opportunity to be successful on their attack with you and how you defend yourself if needed.
- Jeopardy. So even though you can point to someone who has the ability and opportunity, the threat is not imminent unless there is jeopardy. For example, you observe a uniformed police officer standing his post on the street. Around him are banks, stores, and the streets are crowded with people. The policeman is armed and in close proximity to you, the banks and the stores. They clearly have the ability and the opportunity to carry out crimes of robbery, assault, and murder. But the third element of jeopardy is not present because they are not an imminent threat. Now let’s take off the uniform, and place the person in civilian clothes and you have just watched them shoot two people walking nearby, as others flee to safety, the attacker sees you and raises his handgun in your direction. You could reasonably conclude that you are in jeopardy.
Again, to lawfully use force in self-defense, you need all five elements. If you do not have imminence when you use the force, it was not in self-defense. You can not retaliate if the attack is no longer occurring to you. If the attacker has fled, you cannot pursue and rekindle the fight to get in your licks, you are now the aggressor in this second incident. You need innocence, imminence, reasonableness, avoidance and proportionality in a lawful defensive use of force.
There are nuances that are discussed in Branca’s book that you need to know. To purchase attorney Branca’s book, you can click this link to his website store: Law of Self Defense Store.
To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”– Sun Tzu