In Defense of Another
Considerations for armed third-party interventions
Carl Dudley Hulsey’s wife had been staying at One Safe Place, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. On September 26, 2019, The Wife, as we’ll call her, sought the aid of her sister to accompany her former home to retrieve some belongings. Presumably, The Wife and The Sister didn’t think Hulsey would be there. They were wrong.
“As she walked through the front door,” reports news talk radio station KQMS, “Hulsey started throwing things at her face and slammed the door on her foot several times, pinning her in the threshold. Hulsey began pummeling her in the face, chest, and head as she screamed for help from her sister. When the sister came running to her aid, Hulsey started beating her too and hit her in the head with a brick.” At some point during the melee, Hulsey ushered The Sister into his car and sped off -- a kidnapping.
When Hulsey stopped at a nearby convenience store, The Sister texted a neighbor who had witnessed the fight, begging him for help. The Neighbor responded. He sped to the Win-River Mini-Mart in Redding, California, armed with a pistol. According to KQMS, “When Hulsey come out of the store, he was met by the neighbor, who tried to hold him at gunpoint until police arrived.” Hulsey fled, but police eventually captured him with the help of a K-9 unit and a California Highway Patrol helicopter. Hulsey received an 11-year prison sentence.
It’s an example of a good guy with a gun thwarting a kidnapping in progress, potentially saving the victim’s life. In a press release, Redding Police thanked the citizen who intervened. The Neighbor, in this case, was regarded as a hero, and although this case ended well, it brings up legal and tactical questions about when a concealed carrier is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force in defense of another.
Renowned self-defense instructor Tatiana Whitlock says that a significant portion of her clients come to class to become a “superhero on demand should the need arise,” but she reminds them that third-party intervention can be “fraught with all kinds of nasty problems.”
Chief among those “nasty problems” is a lack of context. Criminal defense attorney and CCW Safe National Trial Counsel Don West says, “You have essentially the same right to defend someone else as you would have if you were in the same situation. Of course, you never really know what situation the other person is in because you aren’t that person.”
Firearms instructor and CCW Safe contributor Steve Moses says, “When you intervene in a situation in which there are strangers, the chances are that you probably do not have a good grasp of all the circumstances that are taking place in this encounter that you probably should know about.” Don West says, “You may not know who the aggressor is, who may be the good guy or the bad guy. Anytime you introduce a firearm into a situation, you run the great risk that your perception is incorrect and that you wind up being charged with assault. The big problem is coming to the rescue of somebody who doesn’t need to be rescued, pulling a gun on somebody who’s not actually committing a crime.”
Tatiana, Steve, and Don provide good reasons why a concealed carrier should not rush to intervene in a conflict between strangers; however, in the Redding, California kidnapping case, The Neighbor knew the victim, and her desperate text message provided all the context he needed to take decisive action. It demonstrates that a defender’s relationship with a potential victim is a key consideration before stepping in as a third-party intervenor.
“You have yourself as priority one,” Tatiana tells her students, “and if you’re a parent, your children are priority one plus.” Tatiana also notes that there is a special relationship between a caregiver responsible for someone who is sick, old, or disabled. Steve suggests that family and friends come next, in the hierarchy, followed by co-workers, loose acquaintances, and then strangers. Typically, the farther down the hierarchy a person falls, the less a defender knows about the context of any altercation a third party may be engaged in. Where there is a risk of being wrong, there is also a risk of severe legal consequences.
That’s not to say there’s never a circumstance where an armed defender has not only the right but also the moral responsibility to intervene on behalf of a stranger. Steve says, “We accept the fact that there are some crimes that are just so horrific that perhaps we might contemplate intervention, understanding that there may be a tremendous downside, such as ‘I can't live with myself if I saw someone doing something just horrific to a child.’" The severity of the crime must be measured against the strengths of the relationship during a third-party intervention.
The lesson for the concealed carrier is that third-party intervention is a riskier proposition than self-defense. In self-defense, you know more than anyone else about the context of your life-threatening circumstance. When it comes to the defense of another, you have to put yourself in their shoes, and it may mean that you have to make a number of assumptions that could end up being dead wrong. In most cases the better you know the third party, the fewer assumptions you’ll have to make, and your use of force may be more likely justified. If you don’t know the third party well, or at all, the threat they face should be severe enough and imminent enough to remove all ambiguity created by the lack of context. There is always a legal risk associated with using deadly force in self-defense, and that risk is even higher with you use deadly force in defense of others, and if you understand this, you can manage your risk accordingly.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo