I was just watching a movie, Training Day, (Edit: Spoiler - read no further if you'd like to not have the plot spoiled) where a good police officer is applying for a position on a narcotics unit, but he quickly finds himself in a position where his boss (leader of the unit) is requiring him to go along with a murder, and when he refuses, he's threatened with false testimony by multiple officers, and then the boss orders him killed by some criminals.

He ends up getting out alive, and then he's sitting on a bus with a loaded gun, wondering what to do next. He knows that the boss is in this operation with top people all across the government, and if he goes to the police, the feds, anyone, he'll be in great danger of being killed.

The one option that might possibly lead to him and his family surviving is to find and kill his boss, before his boss sends someone else to kill him.

That made me really curious, if we considered this to be a real life situation, lets say he finds his boss and kills him without imminent threat. Could he claim indirect fear for his life and possibly succeed in a self defense ruling?

2 Answers 2


Self-defense is an affirmative defense available when you use force that is necessary to deal with a immediate threat of violence. The exact statement differs from state to state, but that is its general form.

The Model Penal Code 3.04 recommends that:

the use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion

Indirect fear is not sufficient. Even if it were, he would have to also prove that deadly force was the necessary response.

  • And proving that would be unlikely? Is there any other type of more complex defense claim that would cover the scenario beyond self defense?
    – J.Todd
    Dec 16, 2016 at 19:55

Self defence requires an immediate threat, however, it does not require the life threatening violence to be something happening right now or within a short space of time into the future. The use of the word is that the threat must be immediate, that is clear and present, in the mind of the person who is using the self-defence defence. It also must be reasonable to hold that view of the threat.

For example, battered person syndrome has been successfully used as a basis for self-defence because the person has an immediate rational fear that violence will occur sometime in the future. This is similar to your hypothetical movie character assuming he can prove everything that happened because otherwise he is better off going with an insanity plea due to paranoia. (Fortunately for him, someone was filming it all.)

  • In the examples I've found it seems that "battered person" is a specific application of a diminished capacity defense, i.e. an "insanity" defense. I can't find any examples where it's used as an affirmative defense creating a determination that a homicide was justifiable.
    – Dave D
    Dec 17, 2016 at 6:50

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