Shoot/Don't Shoot: Pickpocket Victim Fights Back

Bill Mattocks

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Not all cases of self-defense are clear-cut. Some are ambiguous. Although the victim in this case may have been legally justified to draw and fire his weapon, and apparently he has not been charged with any crime, one can see that the danger created to innocent people in the area was real.

http://www.mefeedia.com/entry/video-pickpocketing-victim-shoots-suspect/15318316

http://www.myfoxdc.com/dpp/news/031209_pickpocketing_suspect_shot

The victim, an elderly man, was out walking with his wife at night. He was legally armed with a concealed weapon. They were approached by several men, one of whom grabbed the man's wallet. There was a struggle at that point.

Now it becomes a bit fuzzy. Some reports seem to say that the pickpockets ran away after grabbing the wallet, and others say that the man drew his weapon and began to fire while struggling with one of the pickpockets.

In any case, several questions emerge.

Was he justified to defend himself with deadly force when his wallet was stolen? The news reports I have read on this incident do not state that the bad guys brandished or implied that they had weapons. However, both the victim and his wife are elderly - one could certainly argue that even an unarmed fight with two pickpockets could result in the death of the victims, and so the victim would have justifiably been in fear for his life.

Did he shoot while struggling with the men, or did he fire at them as they retreated with his wallet? Laws vary from state to state, but in none of them that I am aware of can a person, even if justified in using deadly force for self-defense, continue to use deadly force once the danger to his life has passed. Speaking plainly - you can't shoot a man in the back as he runs away with your wallet.

It also appears that the victim fired a number of times. Again, none of the news stories I read say how many shots were fired, but apparently the number of shots fired was considered worth remarking on. I'm not going to engage in traditional anti-gun rhetoric and say that the victim 'sprayed the neighborhood' with gunfire, but those bullets went somewhere. In what is clearly a residential neighborhood, they could have hit anyone. As one of the residents comments, "Bullets got no names on them."

I am not going to say that the victim was wrong in this case - mainly because I don't know all the details. However, it appears possible that the man was pickpocketed, struggled with one of his assailants, then drew his pistol and began firing repeatedly at him as the man ran away with the wallet. Given the danger posed by bullets flying randomly around a residential area, and the fact that in this scenario, the pickpocket no longer posed a threat to the safety of the victim, was he right to have done what he did?

If you were put in the situation of his neighbors, how would you feel about the man firing his handgun in the direction of the retreating pickpockets and in the general vicinity of your home?

My point here is to say that not every situation in which a victim fights back with a firearm is unambiguous.
 

elder999

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I teach my students-after talking it over with a couple of lawyers and police officers-that any attack by more than one person constitutes deadly force, by virtue of their mass. This man had a right to use deadly force the moment he started to resist-completely discounting his age, and the fact that the attackers appear to have been unarmed. In some states, though, that right probably ended when they started to flee....
 

Andy Moynihan

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Aaron beat me to it.

The only thing I might add is even on a one-on-one basis in this situation, the younger thug against the elderly man could STILL constitute a disparity of force such that would warrant deadly force.
 
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Cryozombie

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Also in many places as I understand it there doesnt neccessarly have to be deadly force in effect before you can "fight back" you just need to be able to REASONABLY articulate why it was your BELIEF that there was.

Hard to argue that if they were fleeing tho.
 
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Interesting story that does raise a lot of questions. If the victim did shoot at fleeing targets then that definitely increased the danger for everyone including himself. If the attackers were originally armed but didn't immediately resort to weapons in the initial robbery, shooting at them while they fled would have definitely given them an incentive to shoot back. Lucky a fire-fight didn't eventuate. But of course this is all theoretical on my part as the full situation is unknown and may never be known.
 

Andy Moynihan

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Interesting story that does raise a lot of questions. If the victim did shoot at fleeing targets then that definitely increased the danger for everyone including himself. If the attackers were originally armed but didn't immediately resort to weapons in the initial robbery, shooting at them while they fled would have definitely given them an incentive to shoot back. Luck a fire-fight didn't eventuate. But of course this is all theoretical on my part as the full situation is unknown and may never be known.

Agreed. I can't speak for all 50 of the Disunited States, but at least where I live, once someone turns and flees, you can't shoot them as they run because the assault is considered to be over.( Or you had better damnwell have an UNCHALLENGABLY good reason to believe, and be able to articulate in court, that he was fleeing to retrieve a weapon or otherwise was going to continue to pose a threat to the community at large. Wanna guess at how hard that would be to prove?)
 

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