Defending Your Life–Part 3
So, we learned some theory and some law in parts 1 & 2. (I know, you probably didn’t read them. Even if you did, you forgot. It’s ok to go back and take a
Now let’s consider a real scenario. It turns out the street fight and shoot out described before was a real-life case that went to trial earlier this year.
defended a man who had to fight for his life twice–once on the street and then again in court. He had to learn the hard way that the fight in court is every bit as scary as the fight
on the street.
There was no “free pass” just because he used
self-defense. We had to go into court, select a jury, and convince them that he acted in
We all know that the prosecutor has the “burden of
proof.” But in a self-defense case that doesn’t really amount to much. In
our case there was no real dispute that someone had died. And there was no real dispute that
my client caused the death. The only question was whether it was justified. And that,
folks, was on the DEFENSE to prove.
We had to establish by the greater weight of
the evidence that:
1. My client was not at fault in
creating the situation giving rise to the affray (he didn’t start the fight).
2. His real belief that he was in imminent danger of death or
great bodily harm and the use of force was the only means to escape. (He couldn’t just
3. He did not violate any duty to retreat or
avoid the danger (He had nowhere to run and was actually retreating back to his house).
The trial was a dog fight. The prosecutors genuinely believed that my client should not
have used the force necessary, even though he was taking gunfire throughout the fight.
Fortunately, the jury agreed with us. And I think we all learned a valuable lesson in the
process. We can’t just expect the police and the prosecutors to roll over and call it
self-defense. They don’t always agree, even though it seems obvious. The jury felt
a weighty burden. They were truly the last line of defense. They had to decide.
And they took their responsibility very seriously.
In the end, the principles of
self-defense prevailed. Sort of. My client was acquitted, and he walked out of the
courtroom a free man. But he will never be the same man. We often take lightly the trial
process. But imagine sitting through a trial, knowing you’re innocent, yet fighting for
your life. You know the whole time that if you lose, if the jury does not agree, then you may
never be free again. The emotional toll can be overwhelming.
The lesson here is
that we should not take the privilege of self-defense for granted. It is there, to be
sure. But you must be willing to fight for it. And, if you ever are forced to defend
yourself with force, be ready for the next battle in court.