Gun owners know the general rule of thumb for self defense: only use lethal force when necessary. The problem with self defense cases are the gray areas in the law between self defense and lethal force. Depending on many factors, a self defense case that seems straight forward at first might be considered extreme later. The recent case of Jake Gardner shows what could question a self defense case.
Jake Gardner Case
Jake Gardner shot and killed a 22-year-old black man after he was tackled to the ground in May 2020. Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine ruled the shooting an act of self defense and released Gardner from custody. The DA then reversed the charge and presented the case to a grand jury after public outrage over Gardner’s release. The jury charged him on multiple counts including manslaughter, attempted assault, and terroristic threats.
Gardner’s case was tried in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s self defense law reads deadly force is permissible if “the actor reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” Wisconsin law defines “great bodily harm” as a substantial risk of death or permanent disfigurement. The jury found that the case did not create a reasonable belief that Gardner was facing imminent death or great bodily harm.
Public outrage, juries, and the state law in this case show how a self defense case into a manslaughter charge. However, it would be nearsighted to reduce Gardner’s case to a mere product of media influence and public backlash. Many self-defense cases devolve into manslaughter charges because of gray areas in the law.
Things to Remember
Self-defense claims for lethal force take more than being attacked. It takes the risk of serious bodily harm or death. Self defense laws differ state by state so make sure to research yours. States may have a “duty to retreat” where you must exhaust all other options before using lethal force. Other states have laws that exclude your right to self defense if you were the instigator. Lethal force is a judgement call so it’s important to use it as an absolutely last resort in self defense.