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Law of Self Defense: Road Rage Stabbing Acquittal Touches Many Facets of Self-Defense Law

Law of Self Defense: Road Rage Stabbing Acquittal Touches Many Facets of Self-Defense Law

Bench trials, fight coming to defender, drunk attacker, prudent weapon choice, all play key roles in defendant’s acquittal

I came across this recent very brief, four paragraph, news story out of Illinois a few days ago of a defendant acquitted in a bench trial on several felony charges after he stabbed someone 10 times with a 2.5” knife during a road rage incident.

I noted that it conveniently provided a good basis for discussing several interesting legal points that often arise in cases of self-defense.

Bench Trial vs. Jury Trial: Which to Choose?

First, the choice for a bench trial: This is a trial without a jury, in which the trial judge plays the role of both judge and “finder of fact.”

The legal cliché is that if you’re guilty, you want a jury trial, in the hopes that your defense attorney can use theatrics to create a reasonable doubt in the mind of at least one juror. If you’re innocent, you want a bench trial in the expectation that the prosecution won’t be able to similarly emotionally influence a judge.

It is perhaps more true that if you’re a defendant in a case in which the evidence suggests both that you’re likely within the bounds of the law, but also creates some graphically unpleasant perceptions—in this case, the relatively high number of stab wounds, 10 in all, and the undoubtedly gruesome wounds they caused—it might be best to go with a bench trial in the expectation that the judge will rigorously apply the rule of law and not be improperly swayed by gruesome evidence.

So, for a defendant who has stabbed someone 10 times and is claiming self-defense, going with a bench trial is probably the smart move—assuming, of course, that the evidence is largely consistent with the technical requirements of self-defense.

Better When the Fight Comes to You

Second, in this instance, there was a road rage incident in which both men pulled over—but only the victim (meaning, of course, the aggressor who got stabbed by the defendant) got out of his car, and closed on the defendant, who remained in his vehicle.

If you’re planning to claim self-defense, it always looks better if the fight comes to you rather than you going to the fight. That’s what the defendant accomplished here by staying in his vehicle.

That said, there may well be tactical benefits to exiting the vehicle, and perhaps moving to the rear of the vehicle so as to place it between you and the advancing bad guy (in which case he’s still the one coming to the fight). Or not, depending on the specific facts of the case. That’s a judgment call only the defender can make in the moment, but hopefully they can make that decision in a way well-informed understanding the likely legal implications.

Better When the Other Guy is Drunk While You’re Sober

Third, it turned out the victim (the aggressor) was wildly drunk, with a blood alcohol level that was nearly twice the legal limit. In contrast there was no evidence that the defendant was intoxicated at all.

What if the defendant had been drunk as well? It’s true that you don’t lose any of your rights of self-defense merely because you’ve had a few drinks. That said, if you make bad decisions in self-defense because you’re drunk, that’s on you. And it’s not unreasonable for a jury to infer bad decisions from a state of intoxication—and I’m sure the prosecutor would have made that argument if he could have.

Instead, it was the defense lawyers who got to point out the BAC of the aggressor, and suggest the jury infer from bad decisions by the aggressor as a consequence of his intoxication.

Choice of Weapon Can Drive Perception of Self-Defense

Fourth, the relative modest length of the knife used by the defendant. Strictly speaking, if the conditions for deadly defensive force have been met it shouldn’t matter, legally speaking, how big the knife is.

Nevertheless, a jury is likely to have quite a different perception of a 2.5” knife on the one hand—“hey, I carry one of those myself, clipped in my pocket!”—and a 10” Rambo-style knife on the other hand. The latter is clearly more aggressive in appearance than the former.

It should also be noted that even a modestly-sized knife can be a devastating defensive weapon if properly used. In this particular case it does not appear that the defendant was properly trained in the effective use of a 2.5” knife, as indicated by the need for the repeated stabbing of the victim. And that’s unfortunate, but 10 stab wounds begin to look like an act of rage rather than self-defense.

A defender trained in Michael Janich’s “Martial Blade Concepts” school of defensive knife use would have likely been far more efficient in the use of that 2.5” knife, resulting in a quicker stop of the attack with the benefit of fewer injuries to the victim.

Well, that’s about all I can pull out of a four paragraph local news story! As usual, I trust you found it informative.


Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
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So, the defendant is acquitted just in time to carve the family bird? 😉

Happy Thanksgiving, Andrew.

I thought that it took more than just and assault to justify the use of a deadly weapon in self defense.

    There are several factors which make the use of a deadly weapon lawful in self defense.

    An assault is enough to trigger lawful self defense, if the attack is imminent. And, if the attack is likely to cause death or great bodily harm, if deadly force is not used to combat it, then deadly force is also justified.

    Also, a disparity of force, or continued attack, which is likely to cause death or serious bodily harm can also justify the use of deadly force.

    In this case, we do not have accurate particulars on the events, so it is impossible to determine the exact reasons that the judge decided that the force was used in lawful self defense.

Happy Thanksgiving, Andrew! God Bless.

This is why you really need an attorney who is very experienced in defending cases involving a self defense defense.

Choice of the trier of fact can be to your advantage, fpr either of the reasons Mr. Branca stated. The officers charged in the Gray death in Baltimore all won acquittal in bench trials because there was NO case against them. The one officer who had a jury trial escaped conviction by one vote, even though the case against him was no stronger than that against any of the other officers charged.

Another is having experts who can convincingly explain why what appears to be excessive force was used. Most modern pistol shooters are trained to continue firing, as quickly as possible, until their attacker falls. This results in anywhere from 7 to 17 rounds striking the attacker. The same is true with a knife. As incapacitation from knife wounds almost always relies upon blood loss [the same is true for most pistol shootings], multiple stab wounds are not uncommon in a defensive encounter. And, as the level of training and experience of the knife user decreases, the time to incapacitation increases, as effect wounds become fewer. A shorter knife blade also reduces the effectiveness of a particular knife, generally requiring more wounds to achieve incapacitation.

The type of weapon used has an impact on the claim of self defense. The use of a fixed blade knife with a 7″+ blade raises the obvious question of why a person was carrying that knife to begin with. It can lead to a question of the mindset and, perhaps, intent of the person claiming self defense. However, using a folding knife with a blade length of 4″ or less often avoids the question of whether the knife was carried as a tool to perform utility functions or to be used as a weapon.

In today’s society, justifying the use of deadly force in self defense can be a complicated affair. But, if the force was used legally, then it is often better to have a knowledgeable attorney who will operate from the premise of explaining that the force was lawful, rather than from a position of trying to keep a guilty party from being convicted.

It is your responsibility to have a good working knowledge of when you can use deadly force in self defense and using it lawfully. It should be the responsibility of a good self defense attorney to assist you in convincing people that it WAS used lawfully.

Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy the hoiliday season.

Richard Aubrey | November 23, 2018 at 8:21 am

Seems to be increasingly common; Stanley makes a modest folding knife with…small knobs on the blade near the hinge. Opening it one-handed is as fast as some of the mechanisms used to do so, like switch blades or some such. Wonder if those will become illegal someplace.

    Yes, but the sole benefit is how fast the blade comes out from the folded position.
    You have to have an awkward grip to fast trip the blade from that protrusion, and after the blade comes out you have to shift your grip to something usable to grip the handle in anything resembling a defensive knife grip.

    After the NYC law prohibiting assisted openers was struck down, the city enacted a 4″ blade law, as does Los Angeles. Likely these laws also violate the Second Amendment. The Second was clearly applicable for swords. Many States including mine allow swords to be worn or even in a cane, but not all.

I pulled over once to let an aggressive driver pass my vehicle on a two lane Road. To my surprise he also pulled over somewhat ahead of me and exited his vehicle I waited for him to close. Then I drove off, secure in the knowledge that before he could run back to his car, I’d be far gone.

Sure beats engaging the services of someone like Andrew.

If everyone followed the advice of dystopia we would be living in a utopia (at least as it regards road-rage incidents).

This is exactly what I have taught my kids that are now driving. When someone is trying to force you over or slamming their brakes in front of you – then pull over onto the shoulder at the first safe place. Just sit and wait for five minutes. A**holes are not known for their patience, you can almost always wait them out.

If they pull over way ahead of you and start walking back, then wait until they are about 100′ away from your car and pull back out into traffic and drive away. Now they will be really pissed, so hopefully you can exit your route before they catch back up to you. If they do catch up, drive to a police station or busy restaurant and call 911. Stay in your car, unless you can safely exit into a safe public place.

I can pay to fix a broken windshield or dents kicked into the door!

One of the most difficult investigative matters that was brought to my attention was an automobile accident where the sober driver collided with a drunk. But it the sober driver was at fault. Worse, it was a night accident with only the drunk to speak for himself.

“Instead, it was the defense lawyers who got to point out the BAC of the aggressor, and suggest the jury infer from bad decisions by the aggressor as a consequence of his intoxication.”

I thought it was a bench trial, no jury……. 😉

looks like the guy used what was at hand–agree, ten stabs looks more like rage/panic than self-defense

small knives like he used are extremely effective if you know how to use them and where to strike your opponent

if you’re at a size/numbers disadvantage, or you’re pinned on the ground underneath your attacker, one of the most powerful strikes you can use is a horizontal slash from right to left, or left to right as applies to you(should slash from your strong side to your weak as more initial thrust)at the base of your opponents belly(or about hip level)straight across their body–typically, when you drop about 10′ or so of their intestines on the ground, they’re going down and you can either dispatch them, deal with another attacker or escape as the situation dictates