Gunfighter Justice And the Question of Immanent Threat
I tend to watch a good deal of nonfiction programming having to do with the police, Crime Scene Investigation, the coroner, or anything to crime investigation, prosecution, and conviction. At the same time I am just as interested in justice, seeing that the wrong person is not punished or that punishment be applicable to any given crime.
With this in mind I was recently watching a program (I cannot remember the title) where a woman had killed her ex-husband (or ex-boyfriend) and was convicted because she acted in absence of an immanent threat. It did not seem to matter that this man had taken the woman hostage, threatened her with death if she ever tried to leave, raped her and beat her multiple times. It did not matter that after becoming sexually sated he demanded she prepare food for him and then abused her more until falling asleep. At that point, hoping to avoid further acts of violence and rape, fearing for her life due to his irrational demands, and afraid that he would either catch her trying to left or hunt her down and kill her for defying him she planned and killed him in his sleep.
This person should not have gone to jail. Women, or men, when taken hostage by other another person or persons have already crossed the threshold of meeting the requirement for allowing self-defense by any means necessary. It is a flawed justice system that holds irrational standards of threat assessment based upon the wild, wild west.
The United States still implements the rules of justice established on the dusty streets of the old west. Justice by that rule was decided by determining who drew down first in the gunfight. Justice by that criteria was met by the innocent party was required to be faster in drawing the gun than person who was the aggressor. By such standards one had to wait until the gun was drawn, literally in the motion of being drawn, before one could legally defend themselves. That concept of justice is insane. It only works for lightening fast gunfighters in a fiction story who are then able to fire faster after already being attacked. In essence, our concept of immanent threat as the criteria for self-defense is based on an idealized notion of conflict that is more than likely a manifestation of watching too many movies or television or novels.
The instant this woman was taken against her will, like any individual who has been kidnapped, the ongoing risk of immanent death will continue until they have ceased being under the will of another person. If the woman had killed the aggressor during an act of violence it would have been justified under the current interpretation of immanent threat. But for a person in an inferior position, for whatever reason, must be ready to fight back whenever the opportunity arises. We must recognize that until a person has totally removed their self or been removed from any further aggression the fact of immanent threat remains in place.
For the woman describe in this case just because the attack stops when the aggressor pauses and then starts anew, as if this is somehow a totally new act of rape or beating, along with the threat of "I'll kill you if you try to leave," any incident where (metaphorically speaking) the gun is not being pointed does not mean that immanent threat has reached a conclusion. It is convenient for armchair moralists to debate the risks of life or death for someone else when their own life is not personally under threat.
Of course, this is the same social system that pronounces judgement on law enforcement officers who are facing down an aggressor, officers who face judgement if that gun is not being pointed at them at that exact moment. It takes this precise arrangement of temporal facts and alignment of barrel to target that creates a the acceptable instant that allows acts of self-defense that might include application of deadly force. If this notion of immanent threat is assumed to only happens when the weapon is being aimed at target then an attacker can turn their back, weapon still at the ready, and wait for another, better opportunity (theoretically turning back and forth again and again without limit) until the non-aggressor or innocent party is less able to respond. At that prepared moment the person who fires first achieves the desired outcome. Like any citizen a law enforcement police officer is already at a severe disadvantage compared with an aggressor who is not burdened by any of the rules of justification.
The search for true (application of) justice must go farther than hoping the evils of the world will be resolved at the denouement of a Hollywood sitcom. Knowing the potential for magnanimity and selfishness is always equally possible I am forced to maintain a healthy cynicism in every direction. I do know we should not allow legal reputations (who are representing these fantastic ideas of society) to be obtained on the backs of victims. We either we need to find a new word to describe immanent threat or we simply need to expand our frame of understanding of justification for self defense beyond the fantasy of Matt Dillon.