When to Use Deadly Force in Self Defense

As a retired Police Lieutenant I share with my students when I would use deadly force to defend myself or my family.  I don’t shy away from these questions.  I make clear in my YouTube videos that there is a window of opportunity that opens and closes quickly.  I talk about the importance of going early within that window of opportunity; and why.  There are many and various aspects to understanding when to use deadly force against an unjust criminal aggressor and these aspects have much to do with the practical knowledge on the physical battlefield.  As you come to learn the underlying fundamental principles on the physical battlefield or how to actually win deadly force confrontations you learn what’s feasible or what is possible.  In this post I’m going to share with you how you can find relative peace when it comes to knowing when you should pull the trigger to stop an unjust criminal aggressor.  This post has much to do with the legal battlefield.  

How many battlefields are there?  At Humilitas First I teach essentially five battlefields.  I’ll list them in there order of importance:

  1. Moral Battlefielddoing the right things according to God’s Divine Revelation.
  2. Physical Battlefield the fundamental principles that hold sway regarding winning or losing the fight.
  3. Legal Battlefieldthe fundamental legal principles that determine your freedom or incarceration in your particular state.
  4. Civil Battlefieldthe civil principles and protections that determine your financial stability or perhaps bankruptcy. 
  5. Social Battlefieldwe live in strange times is the best way I can sum this up for now.

From the beginning of my police career I understood and gave much attention to how to win on the physical battlefield as well as the legal battlefield.  Yes, the legal battlefield is a future battle for another day and the most pressing battlefield is the present physical battlefield but that legal battlefield day is still coming.  We don’t want to neglect the legal battlefield.  I used to keep a cheat sheet in my report book with the three prong test from Graham V Connor (1989) to be sure to document in my police report the following information:

  1. The severity of the crime at issue (ie; forcible felony?)
  2. Whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of the officers or others?
  3. Whether he was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight?

Why am I sharing this with you?  Through study we can come to learn common pitfalls or legal errors that can and will land us in prison so that we can avoid those errors.  We can acquire the legal fundamentals we need to give us the highest probability of doing well on this future legal battlefield.  We need to learn and do the thinking on how to stack the odds regardless of what battlefield we find ourselves upon.  I absolutely did the thinking on the legal battlefield during my police career though increasingly that’s not enough as we see our criminal justice system under attack from the left.  

In many liberal counties we see activist prosecutors receiving Political Action Committee (PAC) funding for their campaigns.  We see activist prosecutors being elected to sit in District Attorney seats who then willingly turn a blind eye to many and various crimes and criminals. These same activist prosecutors simultaneously target innocent people of good will (like police officers) due to the prosecutor’s political agenda or world view. The Bible gives us a very accurate picture of what’s going on today in Deuteronomy chapter 28 verse 28 The LORD will smite you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind;   An activist prosecutor who suffers this fate does not limit their madness to stop at the feet of police officers but likewise begins to affect innocent citizens of good will.  I share this so that you understand as these conditions worsen you’ll have to be willing to make greater and greater exchanges in risks from one battlefield to the other.  To do the right ethical and moral thing (moral battlefield) you’ll have to be willing to take larger risks with the activist District Attorney (legal battlefield).  To win the deadly force physical confrontation (physical battlefield) you’ll have to be willing to take larger risks with the local activist District Attorney (legal battlefield).  In 2022, we’re living in a world that increasingly has begun calling good – evil and evil – good.  

There is no way in a short article, a video, or even a week long class that I can make you a craftsman on the legal battlefield.  There are many subtleties on the legal battlefield that have the power to change a justified use of deadly force into an unjustified use of deadly force.  There is just no way around the necessity of your willingness to commit your time and effort towards the goal of learning the underlying fundamental legal principles and then perhaps putting out and doing the extended work to become a craftsman on the legal battlefield.   A consistent and disciplined work ethic and time are all that is required for craftsmanship.

Some would say: Look man, I’ve taken the concealed carry course in my state and I know the legal principles.  Well, I’m a certified firearms instructor and I’m telling you it is highly improbable that in your one or two day course for concealed carry (which includes various other topics) that you have acquired a solid knowledge base regarding the underlying fundamental legal principles.  

Anytime I’m learning a new subject I often have questions that go to the heart of the subject matter.  I tend to sparingly ask some questions during a class but tend to save some of the more controversial harder questions for a one-on-one during a break.  After the course I’ll think of other questions that I forgot to ask.  That can be kind of frustrating.  

There’s an old adage that says “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”  

As human beings we tend towards laziness.  In my experience grace most definitely can overcome the inertia needed to change that default state but then pride often tricks us into thinking we got this.    

So how do we know when we should use deadly force to stop an unjust criminal aggressor?  You have to do the work of learning the underlying fundamental legal principles!

After retiring from law enforcement the first thing I did in an attempt learn the subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences that exist between using force as a police officer to potentially using force as part of legitimate self-defense as a retired civilian was to look to Illinois case law. I systematically studied three dozen Illinois cases. Reading, re-reading, highlighting, annotating, and thinking about the lessons that could be gleaned from a claim of self-defense by a private citizen in the state of Illinois.  That took time and that took effort.  I sought to learn the underlying fundamental principles in my home state.

The next thing I did was to look for a craftsman who had written about or discussed the underlying fundamental legal principles on a larger scale.  This added the work of vetting the purported expert in order to find an actual craftsman.  Provided you have found a way to acquire some fundamental principles you then have to read or listen to that purported craftsman with an ear for discordant notes.  In other words errors, drips, or runs as one instructor used to say.   I found a craftsman in attorney Andrew Branca.  Mr. Branca has a book: The Law of Self Defense. He notes in his book there are five areas a prosecutor will attack in an attempt to convict you and send you to prison.  If a prosecutor is able to show  any one of the following five you end up in prison for an unjustified use of deadly force.  What are they?

  1. Innocence: showing that you were not legally innocent but rather you engaged in what’s called mutual combat.
  2. Imminence: showing the purported unjust aggressor’s threat lacked imminence. In Illinois we look for apparent threat (jeopardy) as well as the present ability and present opportunity for imminence.
  3. Proportionality: your use of force was not in proportion to the threat you were facing.  An example would be you’re facing a threat that a reasonable person in your situation would believe is not lethal and yet you resort to a lethal level of force.
  4. Avoidance: even in a stand your ground state this principle is a great principle for both the legal battlefield as well as the physical battlefield.*  
  5. Reasonableness: both subjective and objective.  

*Reach out today and schedule training with Humilitas First and I’ll teach you how and why being able to show avoidance is a winning strategy on both the physical and legal battlefields.

In my courses I recommend students buy the book The Law of Self Defense by Andrew Branca.  Reading and comprehending this book is a great first step at acquiring the underlying fundamental legal principles. You may still be able to obtain a free copy (I think you have to pay shipping) of his book on his website at https://lawofselfdefense.com/.  I recommend subscribing to any email notification lists Mr. Branca may have as well as any of his YouTube channels.  Never before in the history of our nation has it been as important as it is today to do the work necessary to come to a solid understanding of the underlying fundamental legal principles. Get started today!