if you were forced to kill someone would this be seen as self defense in the eyes of the law?

6 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    Necessity arises where a defendant is forced by circumstances to transgress the criminal law. The generally accepted position is that necessity cannot be a defence to a criminal charge. The leading case is:

    R v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273. The defendants and a cabin boy were cast adrift in a boat following a shipwreck. The defendants agreed that as the cabin boy was already weak, and looked likely to die soon, they would kill him and eat him for as long as they could, in the hope that they would be rescued before they themselves died of starvation. A few days after the killing they were rescued and then charged with murder. The judges of the Queen's Bench Division held that the defendants were guilty of murder in killing the cabin boy and stated that their obvious necessity was no defence. The defendants were sentenced to death, but this was commuted to six months' imprisonment.

    Lord Coleridge CJ, having referred to Sir Matthew Hale's assertion (The History of the Pleas of the Crown, 1736) that a man was not to be acquitted of theft of food on account of his extreme hunger, doubted that the defence of necessity could ever be extended to a defendant who killed another to save his own life. After referring to the Christian aspect of actually giving up one's own life to save others, rather than taking another's life to save one's own, he referred to the impossibility of choosing between the value of one person's life and another's:

    "Who is to be the judge of this sort of necessity? By what measure is the comparative value of lives to be measured? Is it to be strength, or intellect, or what? It is plain that the principle leaves to him who is to profit by it to determine the necessity which will justify him in deliberately taking another's life to save his own. In [the present case] the weakest, the youngest, the most unresisting life was chosen. Was it more necessary to kill him than one of the grown men? The answer be, No."

    Until recently it was commonly thought that a general defence of necessity did not exist in English law. Thus:

    · In Buckoke v GLC [1975] Ch 655, Lord Denning indicated obiter that the driver of a fire engine was compelled to stop at a red traffic light even if he saw 200 yards down the road a blazing house with a man at an upstairs window in extreme peril and the man's life would be lost by waiting. Lord Denning accepted that the driver would commit an offence against the Road Traffic Regulations if he crossed the red light. (Note: there now exist statutory defences for fire-engines, police and ambulances.)

    · And in the civil case of Southwark LBC v Williams [1971] Ch 734, where defendants in dire need of housing accommodation entered empty houses owned by the local authority, it was held that the defence of necessity did not apply. Lord Denning MR justified the rule on the ground that:

    "… if hunger were once allowed to be an excuse for stealing, it would open a door through which all kinds of lawlessness and disorder would pass … . If homelessness were once admitted as a defence to trespass, no one's house could be safe. Necessity would open a door which no man could shut. It would not only be those in extreme need who would enter. There would be others who would imagine that they were in need, or would invent a need, so as to gain entry."

    And Edmund-Davies LJ held:

    "[T]he law regards with deepest suspicion any remedies of self-help, and permits those remedies to be resorted to only in very special circumstances. The reason for such circumspection is clear - necessity can very easily become simply a mask for anarchy."

    Whilst there has been no general recognition of necessity as a defence, it has been permitted to operate under various guises, on a piecemeal basis, for example, in medical cases:

    · In R v Bourne [1939] 1 KB 687, the defendant gynaecologist performed an abortion on a young girl who had been raped. He had formed the opinion that she could die if permitted to give birth, and the operation was performed in a public hospital, with the consent of her parents. The defendant was found not guilty of "unlawfully procuring a miscarriage" following a direction from the trial judge to the jury that a defendant did not act "unlawfully" for the purposes of s58 Offences Against the Person Act 1861, where he acted in good faith, in the exercise of his clinical judgement. (This is now within the Abortion Act 1967.)

    However, necessity may never be a defence to a charge of murder. In R v Howe [1987] AC 417, the House of Lords affirmed Dudley and Stephens (1884).


    (a) The practical solution perhaps lies in the way in which the discretion to prosecute is exercised. Lord Denning, in Buckoke v GLC [1971], stated obiter that the driver of an emergency service vehicle who drove through a red traffic signal when responding to an emergency call, whilst he would not be able to rely on the defence of necessity, "should not be prosecuted. He should be congratulated".

    (b) In other cases the circumstances can be taken into account, as mitigating factors, when considering what sentence would be appropriate (as recommended by the Law Commission, 1977).

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  • 4 years ago


    Source(s): Self Defence Training http://netint.info/UltimateSelfDefenseGuide
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  • cwomo
    Lv 6
    1 decade ago

    This depends entirely on the circumstances of the killing. If you feel that your life or that of your family was in immediate danger such as during a break-in, a street robbery, car-jacking and the other person was threatening you with a weapon then a killing would be usually justified as self-defense. It would be a case for a grand jury to initially decide and the degree of your fear for bodily injury or death at the time of the killing would be the key issue for them to decide to indict or not indict. However, lacking that threat or fear it would most probably result in indictment and be forward to trial with a charge of homicide or possibly manslaughter. And if someone else make you kill a person then you are on the hook for murder - along the person who forced you.

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  • 1 decade ago

    It depends. If you can prove that you were in imminent danger you can and some people do get cleared. But there are mitigating circumstances. Say you come upon someone in your house and they only have a knife. You shoot them and it may be considered excessive force.

    Personally if it got to the point that if I felt the need to use force I would not think twice. Regardless of the later legal ramifications at least I and my family are alive.

    As an aside though. In some cases the person shot was clearly commiting a crime and the person who defended themself was cleared. But then the family of that person turns around and sues them in civil court for wrongful death. There are even cases where the criminal was just wounded and the criminal sued the person who was defending himself.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I think it would be. If The person who is making you kill the other person isnt just stalking you. If you are heald captive and the person is telling you you have to kill this person otherwise he will cut off some of your toes and then eventually kill YOU then yeah I would think you would be seen as self defence. But the psycho who is holding you captive would go down for kidnaping and murder.

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  • 1 decade ago

    I don't think it would be considered self defense necessarily, but, your saying if someone like held a gun to your head and made you kill someone else? you'd probably get screwed by the system one way or another...

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