Civilian on Civilian Use of Force in Self-Defense Cases and the Role of a Police and Jail Practices Use of Force Expert
As a police and jail practices use of force expert I have been retained many times in use of force cases involving police officers, deputy sheriffs, federal agents, and correctional officers. In civil cases I have been retained by plaintiff and defense attorneys and, in criminal cases, by the defense as well as the prosecution. In all of these cases law enforcement is involved in some manner.
Other use of force cases have nothing to do with law enforcement; they involve civilian on civilian use of force in self-defense. The role of a police and jail practices expert is just as important in these use of force cases.
When a civilian uses force in self-defense:
Just as when law enforcement uses force in self-defense, the force used must be reasonable under the circumstances to be considered justified.
Civilians have a right to use force in self-defense as long as certain criteria are met:
• When a civilian reasonably believes he/she is in immediate danger of being killed, injured, or touched unlawfully, the civilian has a right to use force in self-defense, or
• When a civilian reasonably believed he/she needs to use force to prevent that from happening.
• When a civilian uses force in self-defense and that force stops the threat, the civilian must immediately stop using force.
In other words, a civilian must only use that amount of force that is reasonably necessary to stop the threat and no more.
If the civilian continues to use force after the threat was stopped, that force may be considered unnecessary and excessive force. In these cases, the civilian may be charged with a crime.
As a police and jail practices expert I utilize the same methodology in evaluating civilian on civilian use of force as I do in cases involving law enforcement to determine if the force used was indeed used in self-defense.
Examples of my role in civilian on civilian use of force in self-defense cases:
• When a bar patron was attacked and strangled in a bar fight, the bar patron used his small pocket knife in self-defense, severely injuring his attacker. The bar patron was charged with a number of felonies. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. The criminal case went to jury trial and within an hour the bar patron was acquitted of all charges. The jury found the bar patron acted in self-defense.
• When “Henry,” a college student was attacked in his dorm room by another student, “Henry” fought back, managed to escape the room, and ran to report the attack. The college administrators and the college disciplinary board (unbelievably) charged “Henry” with harming and harassing others. “Henry” faced the possibility of being expelled from the college. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. I also prepped “Henry” for his disciplinary board hearing testimony. The board determined that “Henry” acted in self-defense and no discipline was given.
• When two members of rival clubs engaged in a shootout in a business, one of the shooters was killed. The person who shot and killed him was charged with murder. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. I also provided expert testimony in an evidence hearing. After the hearing the court dismissed the murder charge as the shooting by the defendant was deemed in self-defense.
• When “John” was physically threatened by a person in a parking lot who was believed to be under the influence of drugs, “John” struck the person with his fist. That person fell down and struck his head and later died. “John” was charged with murder. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. The criminal case was favorably settled before trial.
• When a private security guard (private security guards are civilians) used excessive force and illegally strangled a movie goer at a mall, the movie goer, in defense of his life, bit off the guard’s finger. The movie goer was charged with numerous felonies. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. The criminal case was favorably settled before trial.
• When a security guard used his firearm to shoot the gang member who was strangling him, the security guard and the business who hired him was sued. I provided consultation to the defense attorney. This civil case was favorably settled before trial.
The importance of retaining a police and jail practices expert in cases involving civilian on civilian use of force in self-defense cases cannot be overstated.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this information, it is provided for educational purposes and is not intended to provide legal advice.
About the author:
Richard Lichten (Lt. Retired) brings 30 years of front-line law enforcement experience to a wide range of police and jail topics. Twenty of his 30 years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were in supervisory and command positions. Richard Lichten is deemed a qualified expert in the use of force, use of the Taser, police/jail practices, and jail/prison inmate culture in the State of California Superior Courts, State of Nevada Courts, State of Arizona Courts, State of Hawaii Courts, and in Federal Courts.
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