Duty to retreat?

Here’s a golden oldie from the blog world. This post on Sebastian’s site is almost a year old. That makes it 45 in blog years. Sebastian talks about the three different situations where it is moral to kill another person.

1.           Within your own house during a robbery.
2.           Outside your house to stop a forcible felony.
3.           Outside your house during a “sudden affray.”

Most people agree that a person has no duty to retreat inside his or her own house before using deadly force. Apparently English Common Law said that just the act of burglary was sufficient reason to send the robber off to his earthly reward.

The argument comes in once you go outside your house. Are you required to retreat from an attacker before using deadly force? The reason for the argument, according to Sebastian, is that most people forget to differentiate “forcible felony” from “sudden affray.” If you are attacked for no reason by a robber, rapist, or murderer, using deadly force to stop this person is both saving yourself and helping society. If you get involved in a fight and kill your opponent, you are not benefiting society.

One can imagine a situation where you might be involved in a consensual fist fight with someone. Can you pull out a knife to win the fight? No. You were probably wrong to get into the fight in the first place; killing only compounds your error. What if you are in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury? In order to demonstrate your innocence to the law, you must attempt to back away from the fight. This is why the “duty to retreat” exists. It demonstrates that you are not the aggressor, and you are trying to reclaim your status as the attacked. Engaging in a fist fight in the street is bad behavior, but if you try to break free and your opponent will not let you, you still have the legal right to protect yourself. You just have to prove to the court that you had stopped participating in the fight first. This is the reason that you are not allowed to pursue a purse snatcher down the street with a gun. When the robber is no longer a threat to you, you may not continue to attack him.

Most people never learned that there is a distinction between being attacked in the course of a forcible felony and deliberately engaging in a duel. This is why there is a duty to retreat in one case and why there should not be in the other.

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