I wanted to follow up on the last blog I posted “Bad Information from Instructors”. In it I hit on “deadly force”. Now we need to look at “reasonable force” another apparently overlooked part of instruction. The two together will help to determine the level of force you can or should use to defend yourself and others and was that level of force justified. Again I am using the definition from Iowa Code Section 704 “Use of Force”. Please be advised that not all state codes or laws codes on “Use of Force” read the same.
Under Iowa Code 704.1 as it reads;
“Reasonable Force” is that force and no more which a reasonable person, in like circumstances, would judge to be necessary to prevent injury or loss and can include deadly force if it is reasonable to believe that such force is necessary to avoid injury or risk to ones life or safety or the life or safety of another, or it is reasonable believe that such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat. Reasonable force, including deadly force, may be used even if an alternative course of action is available if the alternative entails a risk to life or safety, or the life or safety of a third party, or requires one to abandon or retreat from one’s dwelling or place of business or employment.
So, If a person in the same situation determines that you used reasonable force, force they themselves would have used, in dealing with and stopping a threat, including both deadly and non-deadly threats, you will be found justified in the level of force you used to stop that threat.
The level of force can be any of the following or combination of them;
1. Soft Hand Techniques; this includes nerve pressure points, joint locks, slaps, pushes that are applied to gain compliance or control of or distance from the attacker.
2. Hard Hand Techniques; this includes strikes, punches, kicks and others that may cause serious injuries without causing death. These serious injuries can be determined to be deadly force if the serious injury causes permanent disfigurement or the permanent loss or long term loss of the part of the body or organ injured.
3. Less Than Lethal; includes chemical agents (pepper spray), electronic devises (taser and stun guns), bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets. Here we find things that are designed to temporarily stun or incapacitate a attacker. These devises may cause death but are not intended or designed to do so.
4. Lethal force; this includes any weapon or empty hand technique that will in all probability cause serious injury or death. Includes firearms, knifes, sticks, and so on. This is where anything can be considered a deadly force weapon if used as a weapon with intent to cause serious injury and is capable of causing serious injury or death. Includes improvised weapon such hammers, screwdrivers, rocks, ball bats, and items that can cause blunt force trauma sufficient to cause serious injury or death or penetrate the body. Choke holds and augmentations of joints causing broken joints or strikes that break bone or cause serious injury due to blunt force trauma are considered deadly force.
Something finer points to consider on #3 Less Than Lethal. These items, devises and chemicals, often take time to take affect and may not cause immediate incapacitation. It depends on the attackers constitution and ability to fight through pain and discomfort and the amount of clothing in the case of electronic devises, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds. In the case of chemical agent not everyone is affected by them and they can take as long as 30 seconds before they have an affect on the bad guy. Depending on the bad guys distance from you and whether or not he/she has a weapon these items may not be the best choice. Especially in a critical life threatening situation.
You may be required to use empty hand techniques (soft and hard hand) before you can safely get to and deploy your defensive weapon.
Keeping in mind if you are using force to resist a like force or threat you are only going to succeed and survive if your force level is greater than that of your attacker. The attacker isn’t using deadly force neither should you. If you are working on the same level as your attacker you are in a tie and the outcome will be decided by luck. It is reasonable to believe that greater force than that being used against you is required to overcome the attack presented to you. There are a lot of things that influence the level used by you. Is your attacker armed, is probably and understandably so going to have the greatest amount of influence and determine what level of force you use. If the bad guy is presenting you deadly force threat you are justified in the use of deadly force regardless of how he is armed. Deadly force is deadly force regardless of what weapon is being used. Other factors to consider are size disparity and multiple attackers. One good hit can render you unconscious opening you up to being kicked or having your head pounded against a hard immovable surface. These types of actions can cause a brain bleed or other serious injuries leading to brain damage, a permanent serious injury, or death.
We can come up with several examples that lead us to the different force options. One such example:
The bad guy is armed with a knife. He is about 20ft away and telling you he is going to cut and kill you. He has verbalized his intent to do you serious harm. However, because of distance he is not a imminent threat to you as long as he maintains that distance. Here you have the option to walk away. Something suddenly changes and he begins to quickly close that distance and will soon be able to reach you with the blade. The bad guy is presenting you imminent danger of serious injury. At this moment deadly force is justified. Only enough force to stop the threat. If for some reason the bad guy should stop his attack and disengage you should stop. It is your belief and the fear of serious injury or death that determine what steps you take.
You have to be able to articulate why you did what you did and the fear that lead you to it. Remember the part of reasonable force that states, “it is reasonable to believe such force is necessary to resist a like force or threat”.
I often get asked, “When can I use deadly force?” The better question is, “When should I use deadly force and will that force be considered reasonable force?” Hopefully this answers some of that question.