One of the key messages I hit in my Law of Self Defense Seminars is that the use of force can only very rarely be both an “accident” AND “self-defense.”

Self-defense is an inherently deliberate act.  You perceived a threat, you responded with force against that threat. Deliberate.

An accident is the opposite of a deliberate act. By definition, an accident is something you did not with to happen.

The law recognizes this disconnect. One either acts in deliberate self-defense, or has an accident. But one cannot claim both.

Further, when one has an “accident” while handling a firearm, there are are particular difficulties that arise.

A firearm is an inherently dangerous instrument. The standard of care while handling it is very, very high. And, in my professional experience, has only grown higher in the last 10-15 years.

Technically speaking, “accident” is a perfectly legitimate legal defense. But an accident is something that involves NO wrongdoing by the person raising the defense. If you are handling a modern firearm, the only way that gun will discharge is if you depress the trigger. That’s on YOU. And it is NOT an accident, especially if it results in harm or death to another person–it’s criminal negligence.

Today we learn that the jurors in the Detroit front-porch shooting trial–in which homeowner Theodore Wafer shot a very drunk 19-year-old Renisha McBride through the head with a 12 gauge shotgun–felt very much the same way, as reported by the Detroit Free Press, entitled “Juror: ‘No one’ believed Wafer killed McBride in self-defense”

As reported in that piece:

[O]n the stand, Wafer claimed he was protecting himself when he shot the 19-year-old on his Dearborn Heights porch, but he told police the shooting was an accident, said the juror, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity.

“That hurt him big time,” the juror said.

Bottom line: If you’ve genuinely used force against another in self-defense, you need to argue self-defense. Any statement of accident, or anything that might be interpreted or characterized as the claim of accident, might well doom your self-defense claim.

And, of course, any time you can safely avoid having to use force in the first place, that’s generally your best option.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog (autographed copies available) and Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle). He holds many state-specific Law of Self Defense Seminars around the country, and produces free online self-defense law educational video- and podcasts at the Law of Self Defense University.