What is Justified Force In Self-Defense?

There are Four Criteria Of “Justified Force?”

The concept of “Justified Force” is something that should be on the mind of anyone who is preparing to protect themselves and deal with violent and volatile situations either personally or professionally.

Many self-defense instructors ignore this subject altogether, which might be a good thing since few of them have the knowledge, background or credentials to discuss such issues credibly or realistically.

The most common lip service given is to say that fighting is a “last resort” and should only be considered when all else fails. That’s not bad for a generic rule of thumb but there’s more to it than that.

Knowing your right to defend yourself is crucial to your ability to take decisive action when it is needed and prevent a minor encounter from escalating into something much more serious. It is also essential in explaining yourself after the fact and avoiding criminal and civil consequences for your actions.

The use of physical force against another person brings with it responsibilities and liabilities that can’t be taken lightly.

Ignorance of the concepts that I’m about to share with you could have very serious and very negative consequences. It could lead to criminal charges and civil lawsuits even after encounters that you did not instigate or contribute to.

Just so you know where “I’m” coming from, I am a “use-of-force expert.”

I have studied, taught, written about, and analyzed justified force issues from all angles. I have applied and justified force myself on many occasions.

I’ve reviewed thousands of physical encounters and consulted with cops, investigators, judges, and lawyers. I’ve written policies, speeches, and lesson plans on the subject and shared that information with thousands of people.

I’ve been interviewed by the media and have provided expert testimony on the subject in court proceedings, investigations, and inquests.

I feel pretty safe to say that when it comes to justified force, I know what I’m talking about.

That being said, I can’t offer you “generic legal advise” about exactly what you can and cannot do to protect yourself. No one can.

I can, however, provide you with guidelines that you can use to prepare yourself for a street fight, direct your decisions at the time of the encounter and explain your actions after the fact.

I have to issue you a disclaimer of sorts and tell you that the law is a very subjective process. You can be confronted or attacked, defend yourself with the best of intentions, and STILL be charged or sued by your assailant. That’s just the way the world works.

That’s why even very skillful fighters, not particularly concerned about being beaten up will go out of their way to avoid a confrontation if its at all possible.

“Winning or losing” is not an issue as much as avoiding the hassles created when you get involved in a street fight that could have been prevented.

What follows is the most concrete and well-established guidelines for the justified force that there is. Read it, learn it, think about it and if the need ever arises… use it.

It’ll go a long way in protecting you at the time of the encounter and afterwards if you have to justify your actions.

There are four criteria at work in ANY justified force encounter:

  1. You must have the lawful authority to use force.

The law in most civilized countries is pretty consistent about granting people the right to defend themselves. It is also clear that when force becomes “excessive” it is illegal and places you in a position of criminal liability.

You should, however, dig deeper and come up with some concrete purposes for the application of force to defend yourself or control another person.

Examples of those purposes include:

  • Protect yourself from an unprovoked assault
  • Protect another person from an assault
  • Prevent an assault that is imminent
  • Protect property (whether it’s worth fighting for is another matter)
  • To affect a “citizen’s arrest” on someone you find committing a criminal offense. You must immediately turn that person over to the authorities. (I’m not saying that this is what you should do, it’s just and example of a lawful application of force)

There ARE other purposes for the lawful application of force, but for the purposes of our discussion about self-defense, I prefer to keep it simple.

  1. The need for and the amount of force is determined by the aggressor’s behavior.

You must believe that the need for and the amount of force is determined by your assailant(s). In essence, there is a “finger of blame” to be pointed, and it must be pointed at your assailant for creating the situation that you had to respond to.

If you were not confronted, victimized or assaulted you would not have had to take the actions that you are forced to take.

  1. Your response to that aggression must be reasonable and proportional.

You must believe that the amount of force you apply is “reasonable” and “proportional” to the situation and that anything less forceful was not, or would not have been, effective.

Your actions should be consistent with the situation and the degree of danger that you perceived yourself to be in at the time of your decision.

Note: This is where the over-simplified notion that EVERY self-defense encounter is a matter of life-or-death can get you into big trouble. If you “overreact” in your self-defense effort, you could find yourself on the receiving end of criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.

  1. You have adjusted your response based on the “totality of the circumstances” that existed at the time of the incident.

No two confrontations are the same. Each brings with it unique variables that will make the situation either more or less “dangerous” or difficult to deal with and control.

I discussed this in my post on “Reasonably Perceived Vulnerability.” Rather than going over it again, I encourage you to read or re-read it.

I have used this evaluation criteria when reviewing thousands of physical encounters. Its solid, useful and adaptable to just about any encounter you could imagine.

The better you understand it and the more capable you are of applying it, the more successful you will be at justifying your actions in a self-defense situation.

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