I am wondering if Good Samaritan laws protect a person from being charged with murder if they kill a person who had been violently attacking a police officer.

For example, say that a person is walking down a street and he/she comes upon a person who is violently attacking a police officer who is lying on the ground and looks to be in physical distress.

If he/she then comes up behind the attacker and then puts that attacker into a choke hold, and then the attacker ends up dying from being put into a choke hold, will a Good Samaritan law keep that person from being charged with the murder of the attacker?


2 Answers 2


Good Samaritan laws are not applicable to the facts

Good Samaritan laws give a person civil immunity if they render aid in good faith and that aid turns out to do harm. For example, in a person incorrectly performs CPR in a genuine effort to save a life, Good Samaritan laws prevent them for being sued if the cause damage or fail to save the life.

The legal paradigm in your facts is self-defence

The doctrine of self-defence extends to the protection of others and allows the use of reasonable force to do so. If a jury considers that the choke hold was a reasonable response to the situation and the maintenance of it to the point of death was also reasonable then the defendant will be not guilty.

There would be a lot of evidence around this and it’s difficult to see how this would go. However, for a more straightforward situation, if the defendant verbally challenged the attacker, the attacker persisted in the attack, the defendant struck the attacker, the attacker fell and cracked their skull and died, this is likely to be self-defence.

Self-defence does not prevent prosecution. It is a defence that can be raised. Of course, if it seems likely that self-defence will succeed, that may be enough to dissuade the police/prosecutor from proceeding anyway.

  • 7
    Plus, I doubt that the police would be interested in arresting someone who acted to protect a cop...
    – nick012000
    Sep 3, 2021 at 7:06
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    @Kevin Again, that's irrelevant (and not necessarily true, either). Whether someone can sue is irrelevant to whether they are likely to win in court. Anyway, "correct" CPR performance commonly results in injury to one's ribs. Consistent, forceful, and sustained pushing against the rib cage leads to them being bruised or cracked in many cases. People whose lives have been saved by effective CPR have sued the CPR applicants before. That's the entire point of the Good Samaritan laws and the reason they exist.
    – TylerH
    Sep 3, 2021 at 20:19
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    @Kevin If for example the patient had a serious neck-injury unknown to the person trying to help, even correctly performed mouth-to-mouth could lead to paralyzing from the neck down... and even if the helper knew, better paralyzed than dead. Even correct heart-massage could lead to broken ribs - and possibly lung injury from that. Sep 3, 2021 at 22:14
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    @BaardKopperud: If no duty of care exists, or if the duty of care is not breached, then a suit for negligence cannot succeed. So if you did everything right, then you're formally not liable. The hard part is proving that you did everything right. So a Good Samaritan law shortcuts this and lets you say "Well, even if I did screw up, I'm immune from liability anyway."
    – Kevin
    Sep 3, 2021 at 22:25
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    @JimmyCarter But if they hadn't shot him dead by mistake, they probably wouldn't have arrested him, either.
    – nick012000
    Sep 4, 2021 at 6:47

This is not the kind of situation in which a so-called "Good Samaritan" law applies. Such laws are for protecting people who aid accident victims, usually by giving first aid, but also by helping them out of dangerous situations. "Good Samaritan" laws prevent the accident victim suing the helper when things don't turn out well, although there are limitations on such protection.

The situation described in the question is "defense of another" which is generally covered under the same laws as self-defense. The exact laws vary by state, but in general when one person is committing or threatening unlawful violence on a second person, a third person may use reasonable force to protect the victim.

Only "reasonable" force, normally just enough to stop the attack or protest the victim, is allowed. The judgement is based on what a "reasonable person" would have done in the same circumstances. The seriousness and danger of the attack would also be considered.

For example, deadly force would not be permitted tom stop a person giving another a bloody nose.

In the situation described in the question, it would depend if the person had a plausible way to defend the officer or stop the attacker without using deadly force, that is, force likely to kill.

A Chokehold is inherently dangerous, and can result in death even when that is in no way intended. The authorities would (or should) look at the facts of the case and what other options the defender had. There is no automatic protection for the use of excessive force.

However, a murder charge seems unlikely, as the question does not describe an intent to kill. Manslaughter might be more likely, but the details will matter a lot.

If the prosecutor thinks the defender had no other reasonable choice, it might well be that no charges would be brought. If they were brought but a jury thinks the defender had no other choice, there would be an acquittal.

  • 2
    Question: would this be under the regime of "reasonable" force, or "necessary" force? I had understood that where life was at stake, "necessary" force could be used, and that "reasonable" force was the criteria for things like club bouncers.
    – CCTO
    Sep 3, 2021 at 17:20

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