How to defend yourself and stay out of jail

Ok, so the one BG is successfully dead on the floor and the other one looks kinda sorta maybe alive next to him. You stabbed around a bunch and the damage stopped raining down on your head, so apparently it worked. You’ve called the ambulance first (human life trumps legal requirements), then you called the cops. Unfortunately you didn’t explain things all that well to the cops, so now you’re being “requested” (a.k.a. forced upon threat of being caged/killed) to explain yourself to the local magistrate. How do you make sure that you don’t end up in prison?


Let me just preface this whole thing with the following 2 caveats:

1 – I am not a lawyer. And what follows is not the whole story. It’s not even the blurb on the back of the book.

2 – This shit all depends on where you live. One of the biggest facts that everybody knows that also happens to be pure bullshit was described in MacYoung’s In the Name of Self Defense: The law and the legal system are 2 separate entities (think in terms of astronomical distances). Basically, a judge/magistrate can choose to apply or ignore anything they want to. (Is it legal? They don’t get arrested for pulling this BS on people, you can only appeal to a higher court, so yes, essentially it is.) How much the judge gets to screw everybody around depends on where you live, political pressures, and about a million other things

This article isn’t about legal advice (get the best lawyer you can afford). Or about what to say to the cops (between the “say nothing” and “talk incessantly” crowds, I favour the Massad Ayoob/Gabe Suarez school of thought – point out evidence, witnesses, barebone facts. Then lawyer up.) This is more about what makes killing someone “legally excusable”. The standards you’ll be held to. The criteria to meet, so to speak.


There are 4 basic requirements for something to legally be considered “excusable” or “self defence” (and many different acronyms – I prefer Miller’s): IMOP







Does the BG want to hurt us? Is the BG actually a BG? How did we know he wasn’t just coming to ask for directions?

While we can’t read minds, we can learn about the different behaviours that indicate the people approaching us are BG’s, not poor misunderstood young thugs (carrying knives and chains for innocent reasons). This is where knowing about the different Interviews and Positionings comes in handy. And more importantly than using this knowledge to explain to a magistrate how you knew it was a BG approaching you, it helps you actually spot that it’s a BG approaching you.


You can’t say you knew what was in the mind of the man approaching you, but the fact that his friend went around your car while he kept walking straight up to you, and his friend then started to come up from behind you, well, that tells you plenty. You might not be able to read his mind, but the fact that they showed behaviour associated with targeting prey is all you need to know.



Can he do it? Intent is nothing without the Means to back it up. All the death threats in the world don’t make much difference if it’s your pissed off toddler yelling them. A 12 year old girl with the Intent to really damage you has limited Means to actually harm you. Give the same 12 year old girl a carving knife and it’s a different story.


Means can have a big effect on choosing a level of force to use against an attacker. A drugged up heroin addict who can barely pick his own nose is probably too weak to hurt you much with a punch. But I think it’s a much better policy to assume that all adults have a weapon on them, rather than assuming that because the dude looks weak that he’s lacking Means. Put another way, a weakling junkie knows he’s weak, so what is it making him so confident he can take you? So any dude interviewing you for a crime likely has one of 3 things: Surprise, Weapons, or Numbers. Either way, a BG doesn’t attack unless he has the Means to overwhelm you. This is the point of a criminal Interview.



“Fuck you” is what he said to me. For some strange reason he sounded angry. See, when someone says words like that, with anger, and his chest puffing out, and his chin sticking out… Well it means he’s building up to hit me. A good time to cut losses and get out. But the thing is, it was a bit after 2 a.m. and he was actually on the phone. So he couldn’t actually do much by way of physically attacking me – he had no Opportunity to hit me.

It doesn’t matter if my 2 a.m. caller (went on a couple times a week for about a month) had told me about his knife and all the ways he was going to cut me, I couldn’t go to his house and slice his femoral artery open as he walked past the bush I was hiding behind – he couldn’t do anything from where he was, so I could relax.

If the three guys threatening you with knives are on the other side of a bullet proof window, then they don’t have the Opportunity hurt you. Yet. It’s when they go get keys to open the door to the room and start trying to create Opportunity… Or if you have to leave the room (rescue wife, get water before you dehydrate to death)…

If an Interview is used to decide if he has the Means to take you out, then Positionings are used to create the Opportunity to do so.



Preclusion means – did you have to be there? Could you have ended it another way? Let’s say that someone slaps your girlfriend’s butt and calls you a terribly rude word. Do you have to hit him? Do you have to confront him? Let’s put it another way – did someone put a gun to your head and force you to stand there and have an argument that built into a fist fight?


If you could’ve walked away, but didn’t, then you just crossed a legal line. Your feelings don’t matter. Thinking you can’t be a chicken doesn’t matter. Worrying about your girlfriend/your friends thinking less of you doesn’t matter. The fact that you willingly stayed and let a conflict develop (with your involvement) means you can’t claim self defense in a courtroom. And just before anybody wants to swear at me for delivering this news, I have 2 quick points:

1 – I’m delivering news. Whether you agree with it or not won’t change the standards by which you’re judged in the legal system.

2 – Stop confusing “legal” with “right”. Just because something is legal doesn’t make it morally right. Just because something is illegal doesn’t make it immoral.


A couple examples of when to hit. And when not to:

A bar fight. Dude gives you the hairy eyeball, bumps your shoulder as he walks past. Asks you who the fuck you’re looking at. So you deck him. Understandable? Definitely. Legally justifiable? Not so much. Downfall? Preclusion – you didn’t have to stay there.


Let’s change it slightly. Same bar, same dude, but you walked away and ignored him. But you’re walking back to your car and you see him walking up to you to trap your back against a car. He’s shit-faced drunk, can barely stand up by himself, and he’s swearing at you like someone had a going out of business dictionary sale and he’s talking about killing you. So you shoot him. Except that a guy with empty hands and difficulty in standing is probably also going to have difficulty in actually killing somebody. Means disappeared because he was just that drunk.


Now Mr Wiseguy is still drunk, still followed you into the parking lot, but caught you unawares and got a lucky shot that put you on the floor. Now he’s stomping your head in (obviously must’ve sobered up slightly from the previous encounter). Shoot him? Most definitely. Sober enough to aim for your head, and drunk enough to not know when to stop? Put him down. Could you do some fancy Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu leg lock takedown and then drop an arm-bar on him? Maybe, but one lucky shot to the head and you’re unconscious, and then probably dead. Fuck being fancy and put him away quick.


Some hulking dude with a knife in his hand has your cornered in your bedroom and is closing in on you? Do you shoot him? Well, considering that it’s your brother and he’s showing you the newest addition to his knife collection, probably best not to.


This is the basics of legally permissible uses of force. By no means is it everything. It covers the majority of meeting the law’s requirements, but has very little to do with the legal system’s requirements.

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