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Use of Deadly Force in Self-Defense

The lawful use of “force” usually contemplates something less than “deadly force.”  Most instances of self-defense will involve repelling a threat or attack through physical force.  In some very rare circumstances however, “deadly force” may be used.  BUT a person may only use “deadly force” in self-defense when they are in “imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury.”  And that belief, that you are in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury must be a reasonable one.  Consequently, bringing a gun to a fist fight is probably not reasonable and could result in serious criminal charges. 

 Homicide or deadly force is justifiable only when committed either:

  1. In the lawful defense of the slayer, or his or her husband, wife, parent, child, brother, or sister, or of any other person in his or her presence or company, when there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design on the part of the person slain to commit a felony or to do some great personal injury to the slayer or to any such person, and there is imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or
  1. In the actual resistance of an attempt to commit a felony upon the slayer, in his or her presence, or upon or in a dwelling, or other place of abode, in which he or she is.

See RCW 9A.16.050

When Deadly Force is Justified. 

The degree of force used in self-defense is limited to what a reasonably prudent person would find necessary under the conditions as they appeared to the defendant. State v. Bailey, 22 Wn.App. 646 (1979).  Deadly force may only be used in self-defense if the defendant reasonably believes he or she is threatened with death or great personal injury.  State v. Walden, 131 Wn.2d 469 (1997).  A person cannot use deadly force in self-defense unless he has a reasonable and good-faith belief that, from an objective standpoint, deadly force was necessary.  State v. Bell, 60 Wn.App,. 561 (1993).    

One has the right to use force only to the extent of what appears to be the apparent imminent danger at the time.  When there is no reasonable ground for the person attacked or apparently under attack to believe that his person is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, and it appears to him that only an ordinary battery is all that is intended, he has no right to repel a threatened assault by the use of a deadly weapon.  State v. Walden, 131 Wn.2d 469 (1997).  Justifiable homicide, and all self-defense, is rooted in the principle of necessity, and deadly force is only necessary where its use is objectively reasonable, considering the facts and circumstances as they were understood by the defendant at the time.  State v. Brightman, 155 Wn.2d 506 (2005). 

Imminent Threat.

The “imminent threat,” required prior to the use of deadly force, is not necessarily an immediate threat but instead acknowledges the circumstance of “hanging threateningly over one's head or menacingly near.  Nor does imminent threat require any actual physical assault, let alone an attempted lethal assault. See State v. George, 161 Wn.App. 86 (2011).  Imminent is defined as ready to take place; especially hanging threateningly over one's head  .

Bearing arms is your right, protecting your family is your responsibility.

In order to truly protect those you love, you must know all your rights, responsibilities and obligations as a gun owner. We have nearly 20 years dealing with firearms matters and the answer to nearly every question you may have is right here.