THE DEFINITION OF DEADLY FORCE
Understanding the basic principles of what legally justifies the use of deadly force is an area of self-protection that too often goes overlooked. At the very least, it is a fair assessment that most law-abiding citizens underestimate their own understanding of these principles, therefore putting themselves at grave legal risk when facing a situation in which a decision must be made to use deadly force.
In some cases, this “lack of understanding” can result in a brief moment of indecision at a critical time that could ultimately prove fatal. Before you can begin to understand the finer points of the law, it is important to understand some of the basic definitions that are commonly used when defining the basic principles of self-protection.
Before we get on to what I like to call the meat and potatoes, though, I’d like to talk about why I feel qualified to speak about this. After all, the internet is filled with bad advice given by unqualified individuals. I’m an Army veteran, a retired PA State Police Corporal, and a certified instructor who has taught classes with information similar to what you are about to read, on a weekly basis, for the past several years.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I do want to say that I’m not an attorney, and nothing I say should be taken as such. Let’s begin.
Definition Of Deadly Force:
Naturally, we’ll start at the beginning. What is deadly force? Simply stated, it is “force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious bodily injury.”
Although this sounds relatively straight forward, you must understand that there are numerous other legal principles that tend to further define this basic definition when applying it to a given context. For instance, driving your car safely down the road is not in itself considered an actual use of deadly force.
However, if you try to run someone over with your car, the context changes and you are now using deadly force, in a legal sense. Conversely, any time you fire a weapon in a manner that can be perceived as “at another human being,” it can easily be legally defined as deadly force, regardless of whether you intended to hit another person or not.
Why Shooting To Wound Is Bad:
This is something to think about if you subscribe to the notion of firing a “warning shot” or “shooting to wound” a potential assailant. Either of these two notions can be legally detrimental in the eyes of the courts. In addition, the use of deadly force will always be further evaluated under the “reasonable person standard” given the “totality of the circumstances.” We’ll be discussing these terms at great length in the coming days.
About Serious Bodily Injury:
Obviously, death is easy enough to understand, but what about the part where it talks about serious bodily injury? This is certainly not a phrase that we use in everyday conversation. What does it mean?
Well, the simple and legal definition is “any bodily injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.” Again, this seems like a straightforward definition.
However, it will always be left open to interpretation by the courts when evaluating the extent of those injuries to determine if they meet this legal definition.
To conclude this portion of our lesson, let’s review. Determining the legality of one’s actions in a use of deadly force incident requires that the court can adequately determine that you did, in fact, use deadly force (in accordance to the legal definition) before evaluating the legitimacy of that force as it was used against an alleged assailant. Generally speaking, this evaluation is not difficult under most circumstances, but it is still an essential legal requirement.
If you have anything to add, or have any questions, please comment below and we’ll do our best to answer.