Self Defense claim: it is not as sure as you would want it to be.

Two stabbing cases with similarities end up with different results. In both there is a disparity of force between the attacker and the victim, in both the victim used a knife as defensive weapon, the attacker or attackers had no weapons other than fists and in both the attacker ended up dead.

Case One is Female Teen attacked by her father.

Garza was visiting his ex-wife and some of his nine children when he got into an argument with his daughter. He physically grabbed her, struck her, bruised her and further assaulted her. During the assault the teen grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed her father in the chest.

Result: No charges filed. Death ruled a justifiable homicide.
Case Two was an Adult Male who was being beaten by several people and killed the initiator of the confrontation.

According to testimony at his first trial, Penley attacked Wray, 21, of Walton Street, after Wray punched him in retaliation for Penley striking his girlfriend. Others at the party at Sand Hill Apartments also hit Penley, witnesses testified.

Result: Accusation of Second Degree Murder, first trial ends up in Hang Jury. D.A. to file charges again for a second trial.

Granted, we do not have all the details in both cases and just running with what the media is telling you is not the best or most accurate way to go, but we can gleam a lot form what little is presented.

People can and do die by fists & kicks. The FBI cataloged 742 murders by “Personal Weapons” (hands, fist, etc.) in 2010. Amazingly, murder by blunt objects such as bats and hammers were lower than murders by hands and fists. There were 183,457 Aggravated Assaults by Personal Weapons in 2010 versus 127,509 using guns. This is important because in most localities, a person can use deadly force to defend him/herself against Aggravated Assault.

A person is guilty of aggravated assault if he or she attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another or causes such injury purposely, knowingly, or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life; or attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon.
West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008

So we go back to the beginning. We have two very similar cases wit totally disparate results. Both had disparity of force yet the prosecutors saw them differently:

“Antonio Wray didn’t need to die,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Amburgey told the jury. “When someone punches you, it doesn’t give you the right to stab and kill them.”

One prosecutor decided that being punched by a crowd does not warrant of self-defense and your life as you knew it is pretty much over. The other saw more than enough cause for self-defense when an adult male struck a teen female and no charges filed. We can go and guess why the decissions were made, but the lesson here is that there is no “sure thing” in self-defense. We are at the mercy of people that might or might not have the best of intentions.

Conclusion: Although the law states that one may use Deadly Force if there is a reasonable fear of Death or Grave Bodily Harm, what you may consider reasonable might not be the same to a D.A. or to a Jury.

This is a quote from a D.A. in a different case during closing arguments at a murder case. Again, it was a crowd versus a single individual and the individual shot and killed an attacker:

He asked the jurors if a reasonable person – such as Oprah Winfrey or one of Tom Hanks’ movie characters – would have shot someone under the same circumstances.

And the defendant was found guilty.

I am sure you heard the cocky expression “I rather be judge by 12 than carried by 6.” Well, twelve people apparently bought the above line or the evidence was overwhelming against the defendant. Either way, for a prosecutor to use that line in closing arguments is just amazing. And that is why I believe in applying the triad of Avoidance, De-escalation and Deterrence as much as possible. And be ready for what might happen to you after the attack is over. You just never know.

14 Replies to “Self Defense claim: it is not as sure as you would want it to be.”

  1. Would laughing out loud at a prosecutor get you contempt of court charges? As a member of the jury? Because calling on the judgement of fictional characters/TV personalities is LOL worthy, if not a clean the keyboard offense. Maybe the guy does that to weed out someone like me who can tie his own shoes.

    1. You’d be safe…at home. People like us with strong opinions about self defense do not get chosen to be juries. Mention that you are an NRA member during Jury Selection and the defense lawyer sends you packing faster than Robby Leatham can reload.

    2. This is why I’ve grown to dislike TV/movies in general, they make people think they know something when they don’t.

      Everyone watches that crap and thinks you can get punched and kicked with few ill effects, maybe a few bruises and a bloody nose worst case. In real life, you can become seriously injured or die, especially if you’re rendered unconscious at any point (no you won’t just harmlessly wake up later, you may go into a coma and die if it’s longer than a few moments).

      The fact is our bodies can exert a hell of a lot more force than we can take, and if you get punched or kicked in the right spot you might not ever get a chance to do something about it.

  2. If I’m following the convoluted account of the Penley case correctly, it seems the whole mess started when Penley struck Wray’s girlfriend. That could make him look like the overall instigator to the jury.

    My instructors always said to consider news stories, however flawed, as mental training scenarios: using the information given, how could this whole problem have been avoided? At face value, Penley appears to have violated the “Three Stupids” rule.

  3. Yes, in the Penley case, the problem appears to be an unsympathetic defendant. The fight appears to have been an effort to stop him from punching a woman. On the face of these two cases, the D.A. in both looks to have made the right choice.

    1. Others at the party at Sand Hill Apartments also hit Penley, witnesses testified.”

      This sentence was key for me. Others HIT Penly, not just held him down. By the same token, a punch does not warrant a beatdown.

      All in all, a tricky case but very few cases are not that way. That is important to get rid of the Claiming Self-Defense as Talisman train of thought.

  4. The key in the Penley case may, just may, be the fact that Penley was the initial provoker, since he hit the girlfriend (either his or Wray’s, I can’t tell). When he was struck by Wray, he immediately struck back. Bear in mind that the first trial was declared a mistrial because the jury could not reach a verdict, so they also saw it as a difficult case. But it may be that, although Penley eventually had to defend his life, Penley’s contributions to the fight were enough to convince the jury that he was partly responsible for being in that predicament in the first place.

  5. While a punch may not warrant a beat-down, one of the best pieces of advice for anyone that carries a gun (or a knife) is the ancient Tibetan philosophy: “Don’t start none, won’t be none.” Even if Penlay was perfectly justified in using deadly force to defend his life, his conduct also quite likely caused the incident to begin with, making him (as mentioned) an unsympathetic defendant. If I’d been on that jury I’d likely have voted guilty.

    1. And Caleb hits on a good point. You will have enough crap dumped on you if you have to defend yourself from a true SOB with a lengthy record who decided you were a tasty morsel for the taking. Why go out and borrow trouble for no good reason other than satisfy a bruised ego.

  6. “…why I believe in applying the triad of Avoidance, De-escalation and Deterrence as much as possible…”
    And why I believe in applying the triad of Shoot, Shovel, and Shut Up as much as possible.
    On a personal note, I’m more inclined- if jury duty is ever offered me- to vote in favor of the accused, especially if a gun is used, simply because there’s too much of “…a reasonable person – such as Oprah Winfrey or one of Tom Hanks’ movie characters – would have shot someone under the same circumstances…” mentality in this country.
    Hell, even my son used a Law & Order argument against me- but he lost when I pointed out that not all ‘religious’ people kill ‘satan worshippers’. Then asked him to tell me which one I’d killed.

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