Generally, one is not justified in using a dangerous weapon in self-defense if the attacking party is not armed but only commits battery with his fists or in some manner not inherently dangerous to life. However, resort to dangerous weapons to repel an attack may be justifiable in certain cases when the fear of danger is genuine and founded on facts likely to produce similar emotions in reasonable men. Under this rule, it is only necessary that the actor have grounds which would lead a reasonable man to believe that the employment of a dangerous weapon is necessary, and that he actually so believes. All facts and circumstances must be taken into account to determine the reasonableness of the actor's belief, but detached reflections or a pause for consideration cannot be demanded under circumstances which by their nature require split second decisions. Various factors relied upon by the courts to determine the reasonableness of the actions of the party being attacked are the character and reputation of the attacker, the belligerence of the attacker, a large difference in size and strength between the parties, an overt act by the attacker, threats of serious bodily harm, and the impossibility of a peaceful retreat.
The parties' sons had a disagreement on the school bus. Plaintiff's son, who was the larger of the two boys, went to defendant's home. Defendant's son told the other boy to leave, retreated into his home and called 911. The 911 tape recorded defendant's son ordering plaintiff's son to leave the home. Plaintiff's son refused and was taped saying that if he was shot he would get back up and "beat" defendant's son. Defendant's son shot plaintiff's son in the knee. Plaintiff sued defendant for damages and defendant filed a counterclaim. The trial court rejected both claims. Plaintiff appealed. The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court, which held that defendant's son did not use unreasonable force in repelling plaintiff's son and assessed all court costs to plaintiff.
Did the trial court err in finding that the defendant's son acted reasonably under the circumstances surrounding this incident, and thus, was justified in shooting the plaintiff's son in the leg?
The court noted plaintiff's son size, his reputation for fighting, his refusal to leave defendant's home when asked, and his threats. The court also noted defendant's son had already retreated into the home and plaintiff's son continued to advance. The court stated that under such circumstances, the trial court's conclusion that defendant's son used reasonable force to repel plaintiff's son's attack was reasonable. Because the incident arose because of the fault of plaintiff's son, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in assessing all costs to plaintiff.