Self Defense & The Law

Dear Friend:

First of all I want to be clear -- I’m no lawyer. I can’t give you specific legal advice and this section is not meant to back you up in court or anything like that (“but Bob Pierce said I could cut his throat...”). It is incumbent upon you (and every citizen) to learn the laws in your state as it pertains to self defense. But I do want to take this chance to try and clarify some legal aspects. Take it for what it’s worth.

Self Defense and the Law

First of all, many of the principles that I've been teaching you have the potential to land you in legal hot water. I’m not trying to back away from one word of what I’ve written -- the purpose of this book is to teach you the principles and tactics that’ll give you the highest probability of surviving a violent confrontation.

But it does not give you the best strategies of winning a potential legal battle.

Every state in the U.S. has its own specific laws relating to self defense. This is my own non-professional opinion on what the general intent is:

Use of force is justified when you reasonably believe that it is necessary for the defense of yourself or others against the immediate or imminent use of unlawful force, and there is no reasonable and apparent avenue of exit. The force used to defend yourself must be no more than reasonably required (proportionate) and necessary to stop the immediate threat.

Individual state laws differ from this, but I think -- in general -- I’m giving you a reasonable opinion. Here are some points that’ll clarify the above statement:

-- “Unlawful Force” means that the attacker is someone other than a police officer or anyone who is legally authorized to give you a beating...

-- “Reasonably Believe” is rather dicey as it leaves you wide open to the interpretation of the police... prosecution... and the jury. What appears to be a “no-brainer” to you may be twisted beyond all recognition by ambitious lawyers and prosecutors looking for fresh notches on their belt.

-- “Proportionate” means your response should be similar to the threat. In other words if someone slaps you, you slap back. Shooting him in the head would be considered to be a “disproportionate use of force”.

-- “Immediate Threat” means that the threat of harm is not something that’ll happen at some future time. This also means that once the attacker is no longer a threat to you, the fight should end. Any final kick to the ribs or parting head stomps will be seen as acting outside the category of immediate threat.

I’ve got a lot of friends who are lawyers and -- speaking off the record (of course) --they’ve given me their own ideas on how best to avoid a criminal or civil lawsuit from fighting:

  • Never hit first. Allow your attacker to get the first strike...
  • Always give clear warning to your attacker before you defend yourself...
  • Always match your attackers force with less or equal force...
  • Never stand your ground, retreat to safety regardless if others may be in danger...
  • Your attacker’s life is more important than yours. Show a greater concern for your attacker’s safety than your own...
  • If your attacker falls to the ground, or is temporarily unable to continue his assault, do not continue the counter-attack, stop and assess maybe he will decide to leave or stop the attack...
  • After successfully defending yourself from an attack, do not leave! Stay in the area and wait for authorities to arrive...
  • Use just enough force to do the absolute minimal damage to your attacker and remain “calm and cool” so that you can weigh every action you take with careful deliberation, ( this is the state of mind the jury will be in when they second guess your actions).

This is not a joke. Follow these steps as spelled out by legal experts and you may just stay out of jail – although you’ll lose any fight and probably won’t be able to avoid the hospital or perhaps the morgue.

You can see why I advise guys like you to take responsibility for your own protection and that of your family and let the legal chips fall where they may. Because, despite what anyone says, the legal system is not set up to protect you. Nope. Its function is to put people in jail and -- when it’s your turn on the legal hot seat -- the prosecutor’s job is to do everything he can to get you there.

As I’ve pointed out numerous times, hitting first give you a huge advantage. As you remember, the pre-emptive attack is a core component of winning a fight. If you can, always strike first -- and if possible 2nd, 3rd, and, 4th.

Yet a pre-emptive attack is the riskiest of all categories in terms of legal consequences. The more pro-active you become in defending yourself or others from harm, the more you expose yourself to legal action. The earlier you make your personal triggers, the more vulnerable you become to litigation.

Every state has laws giving individuals the right to defend themselves and others from the threat of harm, however some give broader rights than others. And to complicate it more, civil law (take your money) has a different set of standards than criminal law (go to jail). And all of them are open to the interpretation of the local DA’s office (“do we want to prosecute or not?”), presiding judges, and juries.

We’ve all heard horror stories of people reasonably and successfully defending themselves against hostile attacks only to be sued later, or having to defend themselves against criminal charges. There is no winning in these situations. Win or lose you will be out time, money, and expend a large amount of psychic energy.

As unfair as that may seem, it’s the reality of what you’re dealing with.

Reminds me of the story of the armed Good Samaritan who chased off a man trying to rape his neighbor. As the criminal was chased off into the night, he screamed to the man that “next time I’ll be back for YOUR wife!” What he didn’t anticipate was that the man chasing him was also an expert marksman who didn’t hesitate to shoot him through the spine. He was permanently paralyzed and a jury convicted the Good Samaritan of using excessive force. The man later said he didn’t regret shooting the attempted rapist because he’d rather spend time in prison than wonder when and if the rapist would return for his wife.

Welcome to life on planet earth. So you have to ask yourself, do you protect yourself from criminals or do you protect yourself from the legal system? Well when it comes to fighting I have some suggestions that may just help you have it both ways.

Now to the average bystander a “pre-emptive attack” looks like you are the attacker and your adversary is the victim. A witness may never see that a suspicious individual approached you... that you firmly requested him to stop and stay back... that he simply ignored your commands and continued toward you anyway... and that you felt threatened. All this may go completely unnoticed and unreported by a witness.

On the other hand, what the witness does see -- and what he later reports to the police and testifies to in court -- is you that blew out your opponent’s knee with a vicious kick... shattered his collar bone with a “very scary” hammer blow... then knocked him unconscious with a chop to that “poor man’s” neck. Bystanders will often not understand how the events unfolded, so you need to help everyone around you to become good witnesses for you.

Here are some ideas to getting witnesses on your side:

We are all susceptible to “false memories” because the human memory is not a video recorder that accurately captures a stream of event. Nope. Instead we store certain “cues” in “memory nodes” which are associated with other memory nodes of the same approximate time.

When recalling a past event we simply retrieve cues from the various nodes and reconstruct or “fill in the blanks” as best we can. And there are more blanks than cues – so there’s an awful lot of filling in the blanks. Think of it like one of those children’s “follow the dots” pictures. You can construct a rather detailed picture with relatively few dots.

But there are a few problems. First, (as the well respected professor and psychologist Dr. Lotus points out), this follow-the-dots kind of memory is extremely prone to error – especially under stressful conditions. Second, the manner in which a person is questioned after an emotional event can (and does) alter memory – explaining why different witnesses to the same crime can have wildly different accounts (“police are on the lookout for a tall blond woman... or a short black man...). And third, people are simply not aware that they are filling in blanks – meaning that they’ll firmly believe a memory is accurate even when it’s just plain wrong. Even suspects who are 100% cleared by police with irrefutable DNA evidence and a rock-solid alibi are still hauled into court because someone swears “that’s the guy”.

Anyway, you can use this all to your advantage. Here’s how. Many instructors teach students to use a “battle cry” when initiating a pre-emptive or counter attack. This is a good idea since it can startle your adversary, help focus your attention to the task at hand, and keep you from holding your breath. But instead of howling out the rebel-yell, simple yell “Get Back” or “Leave Me Along”, as you initiate an attack.

What this does is immediately announce to bystanders that YOU are the victim. You are implanting verbal cues suggesting that you are defending yourself. Keep it going for as long as necessary by shouting other suggestive comments like “Why are you attacking me... I told you I didn’t want trouble... Why are you making me defend myself...” and so on. You’ll stand a much better chance of having friendly witnesses.

Another thing... it’s usually not a good idea to hang around after a fight, but “fleeing the scene” can be easily misinterpreted. A good compromise is to call the authorities (police and or ambulance) immediately after an attack on a cell phone while exiting the scene or call from a nearby public phone. Explain that you did not feel safe staying at the scene but will meet them wherever they request.

Til next time...

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Bob Pierce
Head Honcho, TRS/FightFast

*Individual results may vary. This program is based on simplicity thusallowing you to learn highly effective techniques with less practice than traditional martial arts. However, mastering any self defense technique requires some practice.

**Always use proper safety gear when practicing self defense. Self defense laws vary by state and county. Consult a local law enforcement agency to find out about the laws in your area.

“The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in battle.”
– Motto of Navy Seals