ARTICLE | DO YOU DEFEND OR CONDEMN YOURSELF, THAT’S THE QUESTION | by Orjan Pettersen
You arrive downstairs in the kitchen. It’s late at night. Only the urge for a glass of water brought you here from your cosy bed, but now your world appears to have changed dramatically - and it’s not clear in what direction.
Standing in front of the French doors at the back, now broken open, is a face-covered male, dressed in black, his hands visible, but empty, having not been able to acquire the valuables he entered the house to rob.
Both of you are not moving for a second or two, before the intruder heads back towards the door he entered from. Filled with an instant rage, furious at the breach of your privacy, your extended personal space your home, you give chase. “He should not get away with it, he needs a lesson”. Your sense of justice tells you to apprehend him, teach him a lesson, prevent a future occurrence.
With your athletic disposition, you reach the intruder on the public street outside, grabs him and beat him up with a range of well-delivered punches to the body and face, leaving him groaning and bleeding in the street.
You call the Police to report the burglary and that you have apprehended the perpetrator who has been severely injured in the altercation between you.
The reality of the above scenario is that in a few minutes you’ll be asked to justify your actions and the injuries you’ve caused to another human being. Indeed, the call you’re making to the Police and the explanation given is already admissible evidence that could be used in any subsequent legal proceeding, whether against you or the intruder.
Was the home owner justified in what he did? What would you have done?
Legal definitions and interpretations of self defence, which would be most people’s claim in the above scene, vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but some universal principles should guide you in your actions when you apply violence upon another person(s).
To help you with this, you require a local lawyer to assist you with the authorities rather than rely on your own perceived notions of what constitutes self defence or not.
The traditional claim for self defence is that it begins when you, in that moment, have a genuine belief that you are physically threatened (or another person with you, or your property) and that you only apply reasonable force until the threat is no longer a threat, but not beyond this point of danger.
You can initiate violence yourself in these circumstances, by striking preemptively, but this demands that you can clearly articulate why you saw the danger, maybe even before a physical manifestation of it was evident, such as an actual attack taking place or a weapon being branded.
Going beyond this, or outside of these parameters, may render you liable to be prosecuted for a crime. The more severe injury you’ve inflicted, the more serious the crime becomes.
Since the claim of self defence can be turned into a serious crime if it’s not justified, it’s very useful to have a simple guide to what to look for to determine - and use as an explanation to the authorities afterwards - that you had to act in self defence in the situation you found yourself in.
We can call this guide the ‘IMOP’ principle.
If you remember it, you’ve got a ready-made way of explaining yourself if you ever had to claim the use of physical action in the name of protecting yourself, others or your property (although in the latter category, you need to ask yourself if risking personal injury or death, criminal or subsequent civil law repercussions is required to protect either lower value or replaceable items or possessions).
The IMOP principle will provide an easy-to-remember tick list to validate if self defence is justifiable and explainable.
Firstly, the I stands for INTENT. You must be able to see and state how the other person demonstrated that they wanted to harm you, your third party or your possessions. This could be the words the used. For example, “I’m going to kill you” is a rather robust intent expressed. It could also be the body language used or the movement they used. You can reveal intent by the use of simple words; “Stay back, go back, don’t hurt me” will inevitably show - if the person continues to move towards you, or even better, changes direction to follow you - that they have just this intent in mind, setting you plausibly up to strike first.
Secondly, even if the first Intent applies, the person must also have the MEANS (the M in IMOP) to cause you harm. The old lady in the supermarket car park may have the Intent to harm you by hitting your arm with her handbag because you parked in her perceived parking space, but you can’t claim self defence after knocking her down as she didn’t have the Means to sufficiently harm you. All limbs, legs, arms, head etc., constitute Means if a person physically able to hurt you, and this expands rapidly if the person has a weapon deployed, or if multiple persons are involved. You must be able to explain why the other person had the Means to put you in danger as part of a claim for self defence.
Thirdly, O stands for OPPORTUNITY. Even the fiercest aggressor with a strongly worded intent to harm you doesn’t provide you a claim for self defence unless the have the Opportunity to hurt you.
Opportunity generally refers to distance. If the distance is too far away to constitute an immediate threat, you will have a difficult claim of self defence if you choose to close it yourself before the altercation occurs, by for example moving towards the threat to ‘have words’ with them. Self defence is based on fear for your personal safety. Giving someone else the active opportunity to harm you is detrimental to maintaining a claim of only acting to preserve your life and limbs.
Finally, the P in IMOP is PRECLUSION. Preclusion is simply the principle if you had any way of precluding yourself from the incident itself. If another person is quickly charging you with the Intent and Means of hurting you, generating an Opportunity, you may find it impossible to preclude yourself from the ensuing physical action.
If you’ve been exchanging verbal fighting for some time across the room, gradually getting closer, but always with a safe exit to remove yourself, your self defence claim can be more difficult once the blows start to land.
Although the IMOP principle is useful and a guide for you, self defence law is not black and white. It has mitigating and aggravating circumstances. There are no absolutes as to reasonable or proportional force. No case is identical to another. Your legal position should be represented by a qualified legal representative should you ever find yourself in this situation.
As a trained fighter, you’re likely to be held to a higher regard and standard than the average person in the street in a court of law.
Knowing this, you will also know that any self defence training you undertake should be accompanied by sound legal advice on your position pre-, in- and post-fight.
Winning in self defence goes way beyond the technical and tactical skills you have. You must know what you can and can’t do.
You’ve trained hard and strong in the dojo. But are you really ready for the street - where the bigger (legal) battle may commence way after the fight is all over?