Murder and the Reasonable Man: Passion and Fear in the Criminal Courtroom

By Cynthia Lee | Go to book overview

5
An Overview of the
Doctrine of Self-Defense

UNDER TRADITIONAL SELF-DEFENSE DOCTRINE, also known as perfect self-defense, a defendant is justified in using a reasonable amount of force against another person if she honestly and reasonably believes that (1) she is in imminent or immediate danger of unlawful bodily harm from her aggressor, and (2) the use of such force is necessary to avoid the danger.1 Traditional self-defense doctrine requires necessity, imminence, and proportionality. Additionally, the threatened attack must be unlawful and the defendant must not have been the aggressor.


THE NECESSITY REQUIREMENT

The first requirement is necessity. The defendant must honestly and reasonably believe that it is necessary to use force to protect against a threatened attack. This requirement seeks to ensure that people not use force against others unless and until it is really necessary to do so. The term necessity suggests that one has no choice but to use force to protect oneself. If less drastic alternatives are available, then the use of force to repel an attack is not truly necessary.

In keeping with the necessity requirement, early English common law required one who was being attacked to retreat until the wall was at his back before using deadly force in self-defense.2 In the United States, however, a person threatened with attack is not required to retreat before using nondeadly force to repel an attacker. In most states, a person is not even required to retreat before using deadly force to repel a threatened attack, even if a safe retreat is available? This no-retreat rule runs counter to the necessity requirement. If a safe retreat is available

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Murder and the Reasonable Man: Passion and Fear in the Criminal Courtroom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Crimes of Passion (The Doctrine of Provocation) 15
  • 1: Female Infidelity 17
  • 2: Unreasonable Women, Gay Men, and Men of Color 46
  • 3: Gay Panic 67
  • 4: Culture and Crime 96
  • Part II - Crimes of Fear (The Doctrine of Self-Defense) 125
  • 5: An Overview of the Doctrine of Self-Defense 127
  • 6: Race and Self-Defense 137
  • 7: Race and Police Use of Deadly Force 175
  • Part III - Rethinking Reasonableness 201
  • 8: The Elusive Meaning of Reasonableness 203
  • 9: Toward a Normative Conception of Reasonableness 226
  • 10: The Act-Emotion Distinction 260
  • Conclusion 276
  • Notes 279
  • Bibliography 349
  • Index 365
  • About the Author 371
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