There's been a great deal of discussion about 'castle doctrine' or 'stand your ground' laws in various States since the Trayvon Martin affair. This has often obscured the fact that no such laws are needed in many cases of self-defense where the rights and wrongs of the situation are clear. Usually (except in a few seriously deranged jurisdictions) we are entitled to defend ourselves if there's no other way to deter or deflect an illegal attack that offers serious danger to life and limb, whether or not the attack occurs in a place where 'stand your ground' laws apply.
However, our actions in defense of life and limb may only go far enough to stop the attack. If they go further, the law may now regard us as the aggressor, and find that our actions were not (or were no longer) purely in self-defense. That's why authorities in the field, such as Massad Ayoob, emphasize how carefully we should phrase our comments to police. "I was in fear for my life, so I defended myself" is good. "Yeah, I whacked the cockroach!" is not!
A Philadelphia man found out the hard way last week that our right to self-defense has limits. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:
A PHILADELPHIA JUDGE said Wednesday he was convinced that a disabled, retired Marine was being attacked in the moments before he fatally stabbed a man last October, but he concluded that the stabbing was still a criminal act rather than self-defense.
Common Pleas Judge Benjamin Lerner then convicted Jonathan Lowe, 57, of voluntary manslaughter and possession of an instrument of crime. The judge found him not guilty of the more-serious charges of first- and third-degree murder.
Lowe, who wears a pacemaker and has survived two strokes and two heart surgeries, could face up to 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison when Lerner sentences him Aug. 16.
The case underscores how uncertain the claim of self-defense can be, even in a state that revised its "Castle Doctrine" last year to give an individual the right to use deadly force in self-defense anywhere in which a person has a legal right to be. The revised law also eliminated the duty to retreat before using that force.
. . .
"There are some unanswered questions in my mind about what happened here," Lerner said. "We will never know exactly how this incident began, and I don’t think we will ever know, 100 percent, when the stabbing began."
. . .
[Assistant D.A. Carolyn] Naylor ... argued that ... Lowe stabbed Manning from behind before both men ended up on the ground.
She noted that two stab wounds were in Manning’s back. She also said Lowe showed intent to kill with malice because after Manning fell mortally wounded, Lowe taunted him and even tried to stab him some more.
There's more at the link. Bold print is my emphasis.
I'm afraid the stab wounds to the attacker's back appeared to indicate to the court that they were inflicted after the attack had ceased. His taunts, and his attempts to stab the attacker again even after he'd stopped the attack and fallen to the ground, only made it worse for Mr. Lowe. Frankly, I don't see how the judge could have made a different finding. The only way Mr. Lowe could have gotten himself off this particular (self-inflicted) hook was to encounter a sympathetic, understanding DA who would take the deceased attacker's (extensive) criminal record into account and, after considering the totality of the circumstances, refrain from filing charges. That didn't happen.
Let's all take a lesson from this case. Our rights are clear-cut, and perfectly defensible . . . if we use them legally and appropriately. We step outside those boundaries at our peril.