Navigating the legal minefields of armed self defense

There are may legal minefields that one might step on when using armed force to protect oneself from a criminal attack. A minefield in an area that is filled with unseen hazards. A legal minefield is a metaphor to highlight the unseen legal hazards that can do damage to you almost on the order of stepping on a real mine.

As I said, legal minefields are numerous but here is one I had never thought of. A man shoots a dog that was attacking him. Now, you can’t go around shooting people’s dogs without justification. Saving yourself from a brutal attack from a dangerous dog would seem to provide ample justification.

But prosecutors who are supposed to do justice and not just get convictions often lose sight of that. One in Washington state recently argued in court that Washington’s statute on self defense refers only to defending oneself from human attack, and says nothing about animals, so there is no right of self defense against an animal attack.

Thankfully, the judges, all three of them who heard the case, disagreed and held that no matter if the statute failed to include animals, there is a Constitutional right of self defense in all cases where a person reasonable believes he must act or face imminent serious bodily injury or death. State of Washington v. Clay Martin Hull. It’s an unpublished opinion so it can’t be cited as controlling authority in another court. One would hope it won’t be necessary.

The legal minefield of an over-zealous prosecutor has to be added to the already long list.

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