Lately, my husband has been sharing with me new stories of Good Samaritan citizens putting down their cell phones and jumping in to aid police officers that are being attacked. This often starts the conversation about laws surrounding self-defense and the defense of others. In Michigan, an individual can use force to defend another individual anywhere that the person has a legal right to be with no duty to retreat provided that the person coming to the aid of the other person was not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time. (MCL 780.972).
There are restrictions to be able to legally defend another. First, you must honestly and reasonably believe that there is a threat of imminent death, imminent great bodily harm to the other individual, or imminent sexual assault. (MCL 780.972(1)(a-b)). It is the ability to evaluate the situation to know if you could exercise this right legally. It is not enough to merely say that you had an honest and reasonable belief that your intervention was necessary. You will need to be prepared to recite what you observed that led you to the decision to act and step in to help another person.
With police officers being attacked, the belief that the officer needs assistance may be reasonable. However, it is what is not readily observable that complicates the situation. For instance, you hear a woman scream in the distance for help and that she’s being raped. You run to her aid ready to pull this attacker off and shoot him, if necessary. But do you know what is truly happening and how it started. What if the woman is a prostitute that is resisting arrest from the undercover detective working a prostitution sting. The use of force on this plain clothes police officer would not be justified.
The discussions I have with my husband are typically fact-intensive about the article that he is reading to me. Can we determine from the article if this “Good Samaritan” was justified in assaulting another human being, often with non-deadly force, to aid the uniformed officer? Specifically, I look for clues in the article that tell me at the scene and while this was happening the complete circumstances reinforced the decision to aid. What was around the area? When did the Good Samaritan arrive on scene? How much did the Good Samaritan observe before acting?
Just the other night, I was watching a television show that had a story line along this idea. A shop keeper heard someone yell “Robbery” and ran outside with his gun. On the street, the observed one man running with a gun and being followed with another man with “gun.” The shop keeper decided to shoot the first man assuming it was the robber. Later, it turned out that the shopkeeper had missed a key fact – the true identity of the robber. The shop keeper arrived outside after the robber had run past his field of view. When the shop keeper decided to fire his gun at what he believed to be a fleeing felon, he shot the bank security guard that was chasing the robber and being chased by a vlogger with a phone recording everything. In this story, the shop keeper shot an innocent man. Was he justified? The show did not say. Based on this show, my husband has once agreed that sometimes it is better to be a good witness rather than jumping to a stranger’s aid too quickly and risk freedom.
If you or a loved one came to the aid of another and are now facing criminal charges, hire a criminal defense team that understands the law and how to tell your story. Call us today, if you need someone to defend you.