Those individuals who criticize a crime victim’s self defense actions often argue that the crime victim didn’t need to defend themselves with deadly force. As part of their argument, those individuals will generally suggest that the attacking criminal wasn’t (yet) a deadly threat, and that the shooting of the criminal by the victim was therefore improper. Firstly, I would note that not every state requires that there be a threat to one’s life before deadly force may be used. However, even assuming that a “deadly threat” really is the threshold at which it becomes proper to shoot the criminal in self defense, the argument is still deeply flawed. The fact is that even a single punch can kill, and the initial punch is often a means of incapacitating the victim in preparation for the fatal blow:
Even a single punch can kill
As the following news stories make clear, even one punch can kill a person:
[McHenry County, IL Judge Sharon Prather found defendant Dustin] Goy guilty after witnesses said he punched Carlsen from the side, knocking down the 45-year-old man instantly. Carlsen, who was five inches taller than Goy and 130 pounds heavier, fell back and struck his head on the pavement. He died a week later. [Full story here]
A teenager was jailed for 20 months today for killing a man with a single punch in an unprovoked attack. Darryl Church was just 17 years old when he walked up to William McNaught and assaulted him. The blow twisted Mr McNaught’s neck, rupturing a vital artery and severed the flow of blood to his brain. [Full story here]
Blunt force trauma to the head is what killed 26-year old Noah Hopper earlier this week. Ada County Coroner Erwein Sonnenberg completed the autopsy Thursday. Police say Hopper was punched in the face by a friend, Joshua Luman, early Monday morning. [Full story here]
A 51-year-old homeless man has died after another man punched him in the face outside a convenience store, police said. The punch knocked the homeless man to the pavement, where he hit his head, police said. Brian Sewasky, 25, of 567 Washington St., is charged with murder. [Full story here]
A man who punched and killed his girlfriend’s father during a New Year [disturbance] has been jailed for three-and-a-half years. Daniel Lynch, from Risca, near Newport, admitted the manslaughter of Gary Middleton, who died three months later. “Lynch punched Mr Middleton to the head with his clenched fist, that was seen by his two daughters. . . . “A single hard blow that caused him to fall backwards and he hit his head on the [curb] with catastrophic consequences.” . . . Mr Middleton suffered a bleed to the brain and was immediately paralysed. He died in hospital on 9 March. [Full story here]
A TEENAGER accused of the manslaughter of budding football star Sam Davis has been committed to stand trial in the District Court. Davis died days after allegedly being punched in the back of the head at a party at Brighton in May. The court has previously heard Clake assaulted Davis during a melee that had evolved from a trivial dispute about surfing. It is alleged the freak punch severed a crucial bone in the spine of the teenager, who spent less than a day on life support before he died. [Full story here]
A simple search revealed these and many more stories where a single blow lead to the death of the victim. The sad fact is that the human body is frail; the breaking of a single bone or tearing of one blood vessel can prove fatal. As such, any punch or other violent attack has the potential to end a person’s life. While not every punch (or even the majority of punches) will actually result in a fatality, expecting a crime victim to take even a 1% risk of death to avoid harming the attacker in self defense is unreasonable. Each of us has a right to defend ourselves, and the wellbeing of a crime victim should never be subordinate to the wellbeing of their attacker.
The initial punch is often a means of incapacitating the victim in preparation for the fatal blow
Criminals often begin their attacks using an amount of force that does not immediately kill their victim, and then inflict the fatal blows later. These cases illustrate that point:
Meredith Emerson set out with her dog to hike the Appalachian Trail on Blood Mountain, part of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest. A drifter named Gary Michael Hilton ambushed her with a knife and a baton. He beat Meredith severely (but not enough to kill her), then put her and her dog into his van. For three days, he tried to get Meredith to give him her ATM card’s pin number, but she gave him wrong numbers in an effort to buy herself time to escape. After promising to let Meredith go, Hilton tied her to a tree and then went back to his van to make coffee. After enjoying his coffee, he returned to the tree, beat Meredith to death with a car jack, and beheaded her. After confessing to this crime, Hilton was sentenced to life in prison. [Full story here]
75 year old Reginald Baker was a retired British man, whose physical strength was limited. His home had been broken into once, and a burglar stole over £2,300 of his retirement savings. Fearing a repeated break-in, Reginald decided to store his money securely at the local post office, and had police install a security camera at his home. A few weeks after that first burglary, 4 young men broke into Reginald’s home and demanded his money. He told them that the money was at the post office, but they didn’t believe him. The criminals proceeded to torture the elderly man, breaking every single one of his ribs, stabbing him in the face, slicing his finger nearly completely off, beating him, and breaking his back. Reginald begged the criminals to stop, but they continued to torture him until he died. [Full story here]
In the above examples, and countless other cases, the criminals purposely didn’t kill their victims right away. Instead, they used enough force to incapacitate the victim, then tortured them to try and extract the information needed in order to rob the victim. Injured by the initial blows, the victims simply didn’t stand a chance when the criminals inflicted the fatal wounds – which followed as soon as the victim was no longer useful.
Using the “logic” of those who second guess self defense actions, a crime victim should risk the chance that the initial punch will end their life or leave them even more vulnerable to a fatal follow-up blow – in order to avoid harming their attacker. Such an idea turns logic on its head, and creates a situation where the violent attacker is favored over their innocent victim. Instead, crime victims are legally and morally entitled to use deadly force in self defense.
Note: Nothing on this website constitutes legal advice, and no attorney-client relationship is formed through your use of this website. If you have a question about the law surrounding the use of deadly force, I would urge you to contact an attorney in your state.
Every time I talk to self defense critics my question is, at what point should the victim know that there attacker meant no harm? And how should the victim judge the proper amount of force to stop the attack?
I think the answer is simple. Any attacker means potential lethal threat to me or my family. I come to this conclusion since there is no way for me to safely judge whether the attacker means harm or not. My only responds are fight or flight, if I am attacked in my apartment, one door and one window on the third floor, flight is not an option. There for all intruders will be faced with lethal force by the resident in an attempt to survive.
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