Criminal Justice

The higher levels of the police UOFC includes “heavy hands” such as physical restraints and holds, or hand strikes if necessary to gain compliance or subdue a subject (Schmalleger 2001).

If escalation is still necessary, police officers may employ a baton or collapsible “asp” authorized for their use by their agencies, or electric tasers and other pain-inducing or physically incapacitating but non-lethal forms of physical force such as rubber bullets and “pepper balls” in place of standard (i.e. lethal) ammunition. Ultimately, where no lower level of force on the UOFC is sufficient to effect an arrest or protect others from danger posed by subjects, police officers are authorized to employ deadly force, such as their duty firearms (Schmalleger 2001). In general principle, the UOFC also applies to citizens, though not in the degree to which it dictates specific responses to physical attack or resistance to lawful citizens arrest as recognized in the jurisdiction.

Defense of Others and Liability for Mistake:

Unlike police officers, citizens are not trained in multiple levels of force; consequently, they are not required to escalate their self-defense efforts as precisely and they are more easily able to justify erring on the side of their own physical safety (McCauley, 2005). Nevertheless, citizens are no less obligated to respond with a level of force that is objectively considered appropriate, given the circumstances and the reasonable state of mind of the initial victim. Private citizens may extend the right to self-defense to include the defense of others, provided their actions are justified by the other elements that determine the rightfulness of their own defense: the reasonableness of their state of mind and belief, the appropriateness of the level of force used, and the distinction between genuine defense and retaliation.

Different jurisdictions employ different standards to justify the defenders state of mind and some require the victim and the defender to be related to each other. Finally, some jurisdictions immunize the defender of another who is actually mistaken in his belief as to the need for his intervention, provided that the mistake was reasonable and made honestly and that the force used would have been justified had the situation been what the defender believed; other jurisdictions hold the defender accountable for his actions regardless of motive or mistake and irrespective of how reasonable it may have been from his perspective (Schmalleger 2001).

Self-defense is not a defense to resisting arrest by a peace officer, even including unlawful arrest; that is because the police cannot perform their roles where every subject of arrest is legally entitled to resist arrest based on his subjective beliefs as to the validity of the arrest (Schmalleger 2001). Public policy demands that all subjects of arrest by law enforcement authorities submit to arrest and then adjudicate any issues affecting the validity of the police action through formal procedures.

The one exception involves a subject to police arrest who reasonably believes that the arresting officers are police impostors. In certain circumstances, such as where police fail to properly identify themselves, or where the mistaken belief by the arrestee as to the identity of the police officers was objectively reasonable (Schmalleger 2001). In such cases, only the arrestees reasonable belief about the identity of the arresting officers may be considered in connection with a legal defense to prosecution for actions taken in self-defense against an arresting police officer. Conversely, the arrestees belief about the lawfulness of the arrest may not be considered, even where the arrest itself is later determined to have been unlawful (Schmalleger 2001).

Defense of Property:

In general, the right to protect property from theft or unauthorized entry is substantially less than the right to protect a person from physical attack (Dershowitz 2002). Property owners may use deadly force to protect themselves within their homes or businesses, but they may never do so to protect the property when it is unoccupied, such as by a lethal booby trap. Many jurisdictions authorize reasonable non-lethal physical deterrents to unauthorized trespass, but as is the case with defense of self, any such efforts must be appropriate to the circumstances.


Dershowitz, a. (2002). Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. New York: Little Brown & Co.

McCauley, R. (2005). Use of Force and High-Intensity Tactical Police Flashlight: Policy Concerns; the FBI Law Enforcement Journal. Vol. 74 No.11..


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