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Suppose I accidentally drove into an area where protests are heating up. As I get out of my car, mobs spiral out of control and start damaging public and private property. I sense immediate danger and get back in my car. Some of their attention is redirected towards me and they start coming for my car. They jump on my car, approach the windows and clearly are up to no good. As I would be injured as soon as I get out, I instead slam the accelerator as hard as possible and drive away. Inevitably many rioters fall off my car and get injured, some more seriously than others. I may have hit protestors on my way out as well.

Can I be charged for knowingly injuring people in this case? Or is everything covered by self-defense since my literal life was on the line?

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    Obviously, you can. "My life was on the line" is hysteria. Your life has not yet been threatened. If you must drive away it would be better to do it very slowly and carefully and noisily, so as to give them a chance to remove themselves. What you are proposing is to "knowingly injure people", even those who are not a direct threat. Aka "mow them down". Aug 21, 2023 at 18:51
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    The above comment is not supported by any law, and indeed seems likely to be incorrect in most jurisdictions.
    – bdb484
    Aug 21, 2023 at 19:52
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    Related: the corporals killings - two British soldiers in a car are attacked by a mob, then murdered by the Provisional IRA.
    – user35069
    Aug 21, 2023 at 20:04
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    @WeatherVane I'm saying that you're just offering commentary rather than law. Also saying that the law is a bit more nuanced than you seem to be acknowledging.
    – bdb484
    Aug 21, 2023 at 21:11
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    A note concerning your last paragraph: Just because you can argue "self-defense" doesn't mean that you couldn't be tried for assault and/or manslaughter, depending on the severity of the injuries you caused and how your actions look to the outside world. In a situation like this, it's entirely plausible that you'd be charged and go to trial, and your defense attorney would have to present evidence convincing a jury that you genuinely feared for your life and safety. Effectively, whether actions are "self-defense" is something that's decided during a trial, not before one happens. Aug 22, 2023 at 12:03

3 Answers 3

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The acts of the driver that you describe would constitute several different Criminal Code offences.

The availability of self defence as an an excuse or justification for those offences depends on whether the statutory elements of the defence are made out. These are codified at s. 34 of the Criminal Code:

34 (1) A person is not guilty of an offence if

(a) they believe on reasonable grounds that force is being used against them or another person or that a threat of force is being made against them or another person;

(b) the act that constitutes the offence is committed for the purpose of defending or protecting themselves or the other person from that use or threat of force; and

(c) the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances.

(2) In determining whether the act committed is reasonable in the circumstances, the court shall consider the relevant circumstances of the person, the other parties and the act, including, but not limited to, the following factors:

(a) the nature of the force or threat;

(b) the extent to which the use of force was imminent and whether there were other means available to respond to the potential use of force;

(c) the person’s role in the incident;

(d) whether any party to the incident used or threatened to use a weapon;

(e) the size, age, gender and physical capabilities of the parties to the incident;

(f) the nature, duration and history of any relationship between the parties to the incident, including any prior use or threat of force and the nature of that force or threat;

(f.1) any history of interaction or communication between the parties to the incident;

(g) the nature and proportionality of the person’s response to the use or threat of force; and

(h) whether the act committed was in response to a use or threat of force that the person knew was lawful.

To summarize:

  • the driver must have held a subjective belief in the use of force against them;
  • that belief must have been objectively reasonable in the circumstances;
  • the acts/offences sought to be excused or justified need to have been taken with the subjective purpose of defending themself against the use of force; and
  • the acts/offences sought to be excused or justified need to be reasonable in the circumstances

Without much more detail, I am not even a position to answer how I would conclude those issues, let alone predict how a properly instructed jury would. But, I predict that the main issue will be factors 34(2)(b) (alternative responses) and 34(2)(g) (the nature and proportionality of the response).

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Statute does not specify this as a defence to dangerous driving or such.

However, the law on self defence is a general defence.

If this came to trial then, as usual when the defendant argues self defence, the trier of fact must decide, on the basis of the facts that the defendant honestly believed them to be, whether there was a need for any force at all and whether the force used was reasonable in the circumstances.

There have been few cases where the defendant charged with dangerous driving or similar argued use of force in self defence, defence of others, prevention of crime or assisting lawful arrest.

In Riddell, R v [2017] EWCA Crim 413 (05 April 2017) the Court of Appeal found that self-defence is available as a defence to a charge of dangerous driving (although the court did not quash the conviction of the appellant, Riddell, it reduced her sentence).

The court said that,

If the appellant had got out of her car and there had been a direct physical altercation her defence would prospectively have been self-defence. It seems odd that it would be different just because she stayed in the car and used the car itself to apply force to the complainant (and then was charged with a driving offence).

So far as I'm aware there's no binding authority - these cases haven't gone as high as the Supreme Court (or Law Lords).

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"I instead slam the accelerator as hard as possible and drive away. Inevitably many rioters fall off my car and get injured, some more seriously than others. I may have hit protestors on my way out as well"

I'd call that assault and attempted murder. You cannot possibly argue that "slamming the accelerator as hard as possible" would have been required for self defence. Putting down the accelerator very, very gently and driving away at a very slow speed, carefully checking that there is nobody in the path of your car, that could be excusable, but not what you are doing.

Your life was literally NOT on the line. That is absolutely not a reasonable assumption. Therefore no self defense. On the other hand, if you drive through a crowd like that, someone with a gun shooting you to stop you might very well act in self defense.

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