A seventeen-year-old is facing a manslaughter charge after an April 21 fight in Brunswick, Georgia. No, he didn’t shoot anyone with his everyday carry (EDC) handgun. The young man didn’t stab the person with his knife. He punched a 41-year-old man one time. The incident resulted in the older man’s death.
There are a couple of different perspectives that make this story relevant for concealed handgun carriers.
Is a Punch Considered Deadly Force —
First, I often hear people say I can use deadly force against an unarmed attacker because a single punch can be deadly. Yes, some people die from just one punch. But this isn’t always the case. More people don’t die from punches than from them.
Factors to consider —
But a single punch can, under some circumstances, be considered deadly force. So what are the factors that make it more reasonable to conclude that a single punch would lead to death? Here are some considerations:
The strength of the attacker
A clear disparity of strength leads to the reasonableness that an unarmed strike could cause death or serious bodily injury.
Experience of the attacker
At the time of the attack, the victim knows the person attacking them is a professional MMA fighter. It’s reasonable for the defender to use a higher level of force than they would against someone of lesser ability. However, the defender must know the attacker’s level of training at the time of the attack, not sometime later.
Age of the defender
Some elderly people suffer severe injury from a fall. So if the defender is elderly, it’s reasonable that a single punch would cause severe injury.
Physical state of the defender
Would a paralyzed defender using a wheelchair be at greater risk of death or serious bodily injury than someone who is mobile? I think the reasonable answer is yes.
Again, none of the above factors means a person can always use a higher level of force, just that many factors play a role in determining if their force is reasonable and proportionate.
Is a punch considered “less lethal” force —
So on the one hand, if a single punch can be force likely to cause death or serious bodily harm, is it okay to punch someone who is only stealing property? After all, you can’t shoot someone to protect mere property. So which is it?
If we consider an unarmed force as “less lethal” when we use it against someone else, but deadly force when someone uses it against us, I think we set ourselves up for failure. This way of looking at unarmed force may cause us to use excessive force when it is not warranted and engage in conflict when it is avoidable.
Imagine you wake up in the middle of the night to noises outside your house. You look out the window and see someone breaking into your vehicle. We’ve established that you have a legal right to use reasonable force to stop someone from taking your property.
So you use unarmed strikes to stop the person from stealing your property. However, kicks, especially to the head, are a higher level of force. Absent the suspect using a comparable level of force against you, offensive kicks to someone’s head could even qualify as force likely to cause death or serious injury. That level of force is not reasonable against someone only stealing property from your vehicle.
The point I am trying to make is we may enter a conflict thinking that punching someone isn’t a big deal, but the person dies. Let me be clear, I am not advising against using defensive force when appropriate. Not at all. If you need to use force to defend yourself, use reasonable and necessary force to stop the threat. If that requires deadly force, so be it.
In a hand-to-hand fight, it is sometimes hard to distinguish the aggressor. A fist fight can turn into a deadly force encounter, even if neither person has a weapon. If an unarmed person is in a defenseless position, and no longer fighting, what force is reasonable? Striking force is likely no longer reasonable. This is where it is easy to cross the line into using excessive force.
Reasonable questions to ask ourselves —
Would we avoid more conflict if we realized how quickly unarmed “less lethal” force can change into deadly force? If we approached it this way, would we look to use things like de-escalation, distance, or OC spray before resorting to physical force? I think so.
Would we be less likely to use excessive force and shoot someone for pushing us if we didn’t presume that a single punch could be deadly, so I’m justified to use deadly force against this person? I think so.
I think we can have this mindset without giving up awareness or the ability to respond to a threat appropriately.
Final Considerations —
I don’t know the specifics of the incident involving the 17-year-old. News article is void of information necessary to do an honest analysis. But from what’s reported, the 17-year-old allegedly punched the older man once. When he fell, the older man’s head struck the concrete in such a way as to cause his death.
But prosecutors have that information and charged the young man with manslaughter.
The reason for this post isn’t to judge the prosecutors’ decision. Instead, it’s just to use the incident to discuss “unarmed” fights and how we look at them as they relate to self-defense.
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