If you retaliate against an attacker, can you argue that you acted in self-defence? In the eyes of the law, there’s a fine line between self-defence and unwarranted aggression.
When a person is attacked, it’s reasonable to assume that they will defend themselves in some way. But to what extent? If you lash out at an attacker and administer a fatal blow, can you still claim that action was in self-defence?
These subtle distinctions were put to the test in the court case R. v. R.S. We’re going to explore why the self-defence claim was initially rejected, and why the appeal was eventually accepted:
R.S. entered his apartment building around 10:00 PM. Five men followed behind him. Suddenly, one of the men hit R.S. on the back of the head with a baseball bat. R.S. fell to the ground, and his gun fell out of his pocket. The attackers began to run away. In a matter of seconds, R.S. reached for his gun and fired four shots at the attackers. One of the bullets fatally wounded the man who attacked him with the bat.
Self-Defence in the Criminal Code
In Canada, a successful self-defence argument is highly dependent on the proportion of the response. This refers to whether the action was proportionate to the force that the attacker used, or the perceived threat of the attacker.
The validity of R.S.’s self-defence claim rests on one fact: did he know that his attackers were running away and that he was out of danger, yet chose to fire anyway? Or did he fire those shots to save his life?
At the initial trial, R.S. was convicted of second-degree murder. The judge rejected the claim of self-defence on the basis that R.S. must have known the attackers were retreating.
But in this ruling, the judge overlooked several important factors. The verdict to convict R.S. was deemed unreasonable for the following reasons:
- R.S. fired at the attackers after being hit in the head. This is important to consider in regards to his cognitive state.
- The appellant is defined as a young person. It’s erroneous to assume that a minor has the same capability to make judgements as an adult.
- R.S. had been attacked in the past. He began carrying a gun after being attacked two previous times.
Finally, it’s important to note that only five seconds elapsed between when R.S was attacked with a baseball bat, and when he fired the four shots. Five seconds is not nearly enough time for someone to make a proper assessment of the situation, especially after a head injury.
R.S. did not know his attackers were retreating. His decision to fire at them was based on a fear that he may otherwise lose his life. There is no evidence to support the notion that R.S. was aware his attackers were retreating and chose to fire anyway.
Upon further review, the initial verdict was overturned, and the appeal was granted. R.S. was acquitted of the charges of second-degree murder, careless use of a firearm, and attempted murder.
At Brodsky Amy & Gould, our criminal lawyers have successfully argued cases at the Manitoba Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence and want to learn more about your options, visit our website today.