The Elements of Deadly Force

In order to better articulate to the jury that your actions were those of a “Reasonable Person”, we have these elements.

1. Ability – exists when a person has the means or capability to cause grave injury, serious bodily harm or death to an officer or another. Ability may include, but is not limited to the following: the [persons] physical ability, size, age, strength, combative skill, level of aggression and any weapons in their immediate control.
2. Opportunity – exists when a person is in a position to effectively use force or violence upon another. Examples which may affect opportunity include: relative distance and physical barriers.
3. Imminent Jeopardy – based upon all the facts and circumstances confronting the [defender], the [defender] reasonably believes the [person] poses an imminent threat to the life of the [defender](s), or other third parties and the [defender] must act immediately to prevent death or serious bodily injury.
4. Preclusion – lesser alternatives have been reasonably considered and exhausted before the use of deadly force, to include disengagement. Deadly force in response to the subject’s actions must remain reasonable while based up on the totality of the circumstances known to the [defender] at the time force was applied.” [1]

These elements won’t be found codified in the law of self defense justification or in court decisions (juries don’t publish how they determine cases). Rather, based upon the precedent established by court decisions[2], the “Reasonable Person” element of self-defense laws, and the moral expectations of society, defense attorneys and police departments alike have developed these elements to explain and describe what objective reasonable conduct looks like.

This is the evolution of the “Reasonable Man” element. Reasonableness has been broken down and objectified into understandable and explainable chunks. If one’s actions are not aligned with these elements, then it would be safe to argue that one’s actions were not reasonable. In the eyes of the jury, we want to stay as far to the reasonable, moral and just side of the teeter totter as we can to avoid a guilty ruling. When we strategize and theorize about scenarios and what we would do in a given situation, we want our actions to be as plainly justifiable as possible, leaving little to no room for doubt.

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*This is provided as a Legal Information Resource and should not be treated as legal advice.

  1. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. (n.d.). Use of Force. Retrieved August 21, 2016, from US Department of Justice:
  2. “Graham v. Connor 490 U.S. 386 (1989)”