Here is the example video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALNIPwh8I54 (a little violent but not too much)

Given the answers to Are you allowed to strike a person if they say you can? and Does anyone know if this counts as assault? it sounds in most situations hitting a person is always illegal (unless they attack you first).

What about this one? If the person threatens violence, can you act preemptivley? Also, technically speaking in the video he never explicitly threatened violence, just acted in such a way that strongly implied it (getting up in people's faces and taking shirt off). Could this be used in his defense?

  • This question also has good answers here and here. Essentially, "Yes, if a reasonable person in your position would fear for his safety, then you can use reasonable force to protect yourself from the perceived threat."
    – feetwet
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 15:03
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    "Imminent" is the key standard and your use of the word "preemptively" while rarely used in a truly "imminent" situation, more often describes a situation when an attack is expected but not imminently. Ultimately a judge or jury as the case may be will have to evaluate the circumstances and decide after the fact.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 19:25
  • "Video unavailable This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated."
    – likejudo
    Commented May 7, 2022 at 14:39

3 Answers 3


You can use physical force if necessary to defend yourself from imminent bodily harm. If you reasonably believe that physical force is required to prevent unlawful injury to you (in some cases, other people, your property, or even the property of others), it is a defense that you used only as much force as was required to eliminate the immediate threat.

What ultimately matters is what the court will believe a reasonable person would have believed and how a reasonable person would have acted on those beliefs. Sarcastically goading someone into punching? Probably not enough, unless the taunting is pretty egregious. Acting in a physically menacing and aggressive manner (taking off shirt, getting in your face)... I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, but the proper response to that behavior is to commence the beat down.

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    "Acting in a physically menacing and aggressive manner (taking off shirt, getting in your face)..." I believe the proper response to this is to attempt to leave. If the person in question prevents you from leaving then you could be looking at unlawful imprisonment, and freeing yourself from that situation would be reasonable.
    – SGR
    Commented Jan 5, 2017 at 13:58
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    @SGR I'm assuming you skipped the video. The incident occurred on a subway train, so no one could leave.
    – Jankin
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 9:12
  • I do not think the average human would simply just walk away due to the fact most people care about dignity. You do not want to be treated like garbage by anyone, which could trigger a negative response. I guess that is where one could say that the law does not take emotions in consideration. @SGR
    – Barrosy
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 8:15
  • @Barrosy In general, I don't think hurt feelings or bruised egos can give rise to a valid claim of self defense, but I think there is a concept of "fighting words" which might at least be a mitigating factor or get charges reduced.
    – Patrick87
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:09
  • @SGR: It depends on your jurisdiction. In the U.S. some states have "Stand your ground" while others operate on "Duty to Flee". The latter says you can not claim self defense unless you are unable to leave the situation. The former allows you to use self-defense if you are attacked in a place you are legally allowed to be, whether or not you have the ability to flee.
    – hszmv
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 19:37

In general: Yes.

For example, German law defines "legitimate self-defense" (Notwehr) as:

Notwehr ist die Verteidigung, die erforderlich ist, um einen gegenwärtigen rechtswidrigen Angriff von sich oder einem anderen abzuwenden.

§32 Strafgesetzbuch


Legitimate self-defense is the defense required to avert a present, illegal attack from oneself or someone else.

In the legal literature it is accepted that the term "present attack" includes attacks that are immiment, but have not yet begun.

So if you could reasonably believe that someone was about to start an attack, you could preempt it. However, mere threats of violence are not necessarily sufficient - the whole situation must make it seem likely that the threats are to be taken seriously.

In addition to that, you are required to use only as much force as necessary to avert the attack. For example, if you are significantly stronger than your adversary, a preemptive attack is probably less likely to be accepted as self-defense, because you could have afforded to wait with little risk.


Size of the aggressor is irrelevant. Anyone is capable of causing bodily harm or death with the use of a weapon, or everyday objects as weapons i.e. a candlestick. Even a minor is capable of such crimes i.e. Children bringing weapons to school, and officers using deadly force to stop the criminal from harming others.

  • 1
    While size is not the only factor, it is certainly not irrelevant.
    – Justin
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:16
  • Size or strength is not a factor if there is the possibility of the aggressor (child or adult) doing harm to others with a knife, gun, or explosive. Or everyday items such as cutting devices or blunt force objects. Commented May 11, 2019 at 18:11
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    For example, police shot and killed a petty thief from a distance after stealing a soda from a convenience store and brandishing a pair of scissors and yelling at the police. It's on YouTube buddy Commented May 11, 2019 at 18:19
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    The only deciding factor is "capability" of doing harm to others. Some may argue that the defender must attempt to run or flee, however, in reality that is not a requirement. Especially in states that have "stand your ground" laws. Commented May 11, 2019 at 20:19
  • There are also no scientific standards for determining strength. Height weight and age are facts. Gender is also irrelevant. Commented May 11, 2019 at 23:53

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