Random thought of the day

In some states if two (or more) criminals engage in a felony and someone dies as a result then the surviving criminal(s) can be charged with murder. This can result in strange cases where the intended victim successfully defends themselves with deadly force and a criminal is charged with the death of another criminal. This happens even though the criminal not only didn’t inflict the deadly injury they had no injurious intent against their criminal comrade. They could have been 100 feet away driving the getaway car and yet they are charged with the murder of the masked guy with the gun in the bank.

But how are those numbers tallied in the stats? Will that justified homicide show up as a murder? Will it show up as both a justified self-defense killing and as an illegal murder? Or will it count as a justified homicide?

Does anyone know? Does anyone know how to find out?

This could make a (probably small) difference in some of the statistics we use when defending the specific enumerated right to keep and bear arms.

6 thoughts on “Random thought of the day

  1. I’ve been skimming through the Uniform Crime Reporting Handbook 2004 from the FBI, and it looks to me like deaths under the felony murder rule are classified just the same as regular murders:
    Criminal Homicide—Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter (1a)
    Definition: The willful (nonnegligent) killing of one human being by another. As a general rule, any death caused by injuries received in a fight, argument, quarrel, assault, or
    commission of a crime is classified as Murder and Nonnegligent Manslaughter (1a).

    Of course, none of the scenarios listed fit the situation you describe very closely.

    But maybe not always: if someone has a heart attack & dies while a crime is being committed against him, that is *not* reported as a criminal homicide because the criminal would have had no way of knowing the victim was susceptible to this. It seems to me that this might be prosecutable as felony murder, however, at least in some states.

    Finally, the justifiable homicide exception is also extremely unclear:

    NOTE: Justifiable homicide, by definition, occurs in conjunction with other offenses. Therefore, the crime being committed when the justifiable homicide took place must be reported as a separate offense. Reporting agencies should take care to ensure that they do not classify a killing as justifiable or excusable solely on the claims of self-defense or on the action of a coroner, prosecutor, grand jury, or court.
    The following scenario illustrates an incident known to law enforcement that reporting agencies would not consider Justifiable Homicide:
    17. While playing cards, two men got into an argument. The first man attacked the second with a broken bottle. The second man pulled a gun and killed his attacker. The police arrested the shooter; he claimed self-defense.

  2. Ok, now I’m concerned. I thought that the immediate threat of deadly force (being attacked with a broken bottle) was the very definition of when defending yourself with deadly force (a firearm) is justified. What does an argument that escalates have to do with it (as long as you didn’t start the escalating)? I have been hearing for years that our justice system is really nothing more than a game; this would definitely lend credence to that assertion.

  3. Jason,

    I believe this is the handbook distributed to local departments for reporting FBI crime statistics–it does not necessarily have anything to do with how or if they decide to prosecute. Justifiable homicide isn’t supposed to count in the criminal homicide statistics, but unfortunately they leave it just about as clear as mud how they decide if a homicide is justifiable or not, for statistical purposes. Note that *by themselves* even the findings of the court system are not to dictate this for reporting purposes. The way I read this is that two or more factors must corroborate the conclusion that the homicide is justified; otherwise, it is reported as criminal, even if they decided not to prosecute the shooter and even if they did but he was found not guilty. I.E., if there’s a corpse they assume it’s criminal unless proven otherwise. However, it must be noted that this is my interpretation, and that this appears to give very broad latitude to the reporting party (state/county/local PD). I suspect that due to this lack of clarity, in practice these sorts of things are very inconsistently dealt with and lend a certain amount of uncertainty to the overall picture.

  4. FBI stats are reported by police agencies and thus are based on arrest data.


    “For which categories (e.g., penal, prosecution, arrest, conviction) are statistics collected through the UCR Program?

    To best depict total crime and to provide the most meaningful data to police administrators, the UCR Program collects data on known offenses and persons arrested by law enforcement agencies. The UCR Program does not record or collect statistics on the findings of a court, coroner, jury, or the decision of a prosecutor.” (emphasis mine)

    Arrests which charges that are later dismissed or amended, as in the case of criminal homicide arrest later determined to be justifiable, may or may not get corrected.

    Further, they do not use the local or state statute for the definition of a crime, but as noted above, their own. Which can skew how different offenses get reported in the first place.

    From the FBI:


    “To ensure these data are uniformly reported, the FBI provides contributing law enforcement agencies with a handbook that explains how to classify and score offenses and provides uniform crime offense definitions. Acknowledging that offense definitions may vary from state to state, the FBI cautions agencies to report offenses not according to local or state statutes but according to those guidelines provided in the handbook. Most agencies make a good faith effort to comply with established guidelines.”

    Thus there’s enough room for error to drive a truckload of statistically-faulty comparisons with cherry-picked North-Western European nations’ data through. Which is exactly what the Brady’s and VPC do all the time.

  5. “Ok, now I’m concerned. I thought that the immediate threat of deadly force (being attacked with a broken bottle) was the very definition of when defending yourself with deadly force (a firearm) is justified. What does an argument that escalates have to do with it (as long as you didn’t start the escalating)?”

    To quote the “No Nonsense Self Defense” Website (see http://www.nononsenseselfdefense.com/MAandSD.htm#UFC““),

    Simply stated if you are fighting you are part of the problem. Fighting implies that you are not only part of the conflict, but that you assisted in its creation and escalation. This is what we meant when we said your pre-conflict behavior will be carefully reviewed. If you, in any way, were a) instrumental in the creation of the problem that lead to the physical violence, (e.g. if you were threatening him, insulting him or arguing with him), b) continued to attack after he was obviously losing and/or had broken off his offensive actions or c) instead of attempting to escape you stayed there and fought to “win” you are fighting, you are not defending yourself. Straight up, police arrest both combatants of a fight… no matter who started it.

    This is one reason why those who choose to carry a gun also choose to attempt to de-escalate a situation if possible, and run away if possible, rather than allow a situation get to the point of his opponent breaking a bottle. If you do everything you can to calm the other person down, and then to try to get away when he reaches for that bottle, and you still have to shoot the guy, it is justified as self-defense. On the other hand, if you egg him on, you become a willing participant in a fight, rather than someone who seeks peace–and many people who would back down if given a “saving grace” will attack you if pushed too far. As is explained elsewhere on the website, there are many people whose last words were “You don’t have the guts”, especially when spoken in Spanish.

    And, hence, “An armed society is a polite society.”

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