At the beginning of the movie Con Air, the main character is presented as an ex-Green Beret who is attacked by 3 people outside a bar. He defends himself and his pregnant wife during the fight until one breaks a bottle over his head, after which he recovers and deliberately uses a palm strike to the face, killing one of his assailants.

Subsequently, he is arraigned for manslaughter. In an attempt to plea bargain the sentence down from a possible 10 years, he pleads guilty with the expectation he'll get something like 4. The judge accepts the guilty verdict, but rejects the plea terms and sentences him the full amount with the statement, "Your military training makes you a deadly weapon..."

This mentality runs contrary to my personal sensibilities (so I probably can't be a juror in this sort of trial), but to me common sense suggests that when you're being attacked in a 3 on 1 scenario and someone has introduced a weapon, it is prudent to no longer be lenient.

Does the law disagree with this mentality? Are military members and other persons who study martial arts held to a different standard in cases of assault or manslaughter like this?

  • Need the location.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 15:02
  • 1
    @paparazzo I tagged United States, but in the movie the trial occurred in Alabama if more specificity is required. I am curious if there is a broad ruling on the SCOTUS level to this effect, but perhaps it can only be handled on the state or regional level. Commented Sep 21, 2018 at 15:36

2 Answers 2


In Guam,

Any person who is an expert in the art of karate or judo, or any similar physical are in which the hands and feet are used as deadly weapons, is required to register with the Department of Revenue and Taxation


This Chapter shall not apply to duly authorized and appointed peace and law enforcement officers, nor to members of the Armed Forces of the United States

However, in general, a person is not at a legal disadvantage for a self-defense defense by dint of the fact of knowing or using martial arts. You are allowed to use necessary and proportionate force to defend yourself or another from harm. The specifics vary by state, so you may be required to retreat and use force only if there is no alternative other than death. Jurors would be given some kind of instructions such as this one and this, the crucial part of which is that one

may employ such force and means as a reasonably prudent person would use under the same or similar conditions as they appeared to the person, taking into consideration all of the facts and circumstances known to the person at the time of [and prior to] the incident

It is possible that jurors would think that lesser force is required in the case of a martial-arts based self-defense. There would probably be expert testimony addressing the question of whether a less energetic response would be obviously effective, given the defendant's expertise.


In my state you can use lethal force in self defense if you think your life or the life of a loved one is threatened.

If you start the fight then I can see it might be considered a lethal weapon.

Movie probably sensationalized.

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