Following on this question: Am I allowed to kill a person threatening me? CA, USA

What if you are the target of lethal force? In this case your own life is threatened, even though you created the situation that warranted the use of lethal force against you.

So what if now the hostage-taker kills the guy who tried to stop him with lethal force. And after that the hostage-taker gives up. Would he be guilty "only" of the crime of hostage taking or would he be guilty of murder as well?

  • I don't know specifically about California, but in general you cannot legally create an altercation then use lethal force. In other words, starting a fight then killing someone looks bad to a jury.
    – user385
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


The "felony murder" doctrine, which applies in most of the U.S. (including California), holds criminals engaged in "dangerous felonies" responsible for any deaths that occur during the commission of such crimes.

In the given example, the hostage taker and anyone who is an accessory to that aggravated assault would, if convicted, also be guilty of murder for deaths that occurred in connection with the incident, regardless of their intent.


He would be guilty of murder; self-defense only applies when threatened with unlawful force - the hostage's force is lawful.

  • So in that situation there is nothing I could lawfull do to safe my life except imediately drop my weapon?
    – Zaibis
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 9:35
  • 3
    Are you planning to take hostages?
    – Dale M
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 10:09
  • Since I'm living in germany, even if I would be planing to do so, the information you would give me wouldn't be a help for me over here. But no, I'm not planing to do so.
    – Zaibis
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 10:11
  • @Zaibis: The situation in Germany is the same. Self-defence is defined as any defensive action that is necessary to avert an imminent unlawful attack on oneself or another (official but non-authoritative translation of § 32 (2) StGB).
    – chirlu
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 17:14
  • 1
    If, for whatever reason, you lost your mind and took hostages, then decided that was a Bad Idea™, your only legal option to not die is to drop your weapons and stop attacking or threatening people. You don't have to give up, but it's probably legal for the people around you to use non-lethal force to subdue you until the police arrive (though that depends on jurisdiction). However, if you are clearly no longer a threat and someone attempts to kill you anyways, you would then have the right to defend yourself with lethal force as the attack against you is now unlawful.
    – MichaelS
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 5:44

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