Crossing the Line in Self-Defense

in Force

The recent shooting of a criminal attempting to rob his store by fifty-seven year old pharmacist Jerome Ersland in Oklahoma City raises the question of what is justified in defending oneself, and what crosses the line. It also provides a good introduction to this article and an excellent example in the legal chapter of a book I'm working on. Ersland has been charged with first-degree murder for killing 16-year-old Antwun Parker, one of two criminals that entered Ersland's store. Parker's partner brandished a handgun before Ersland fired upon the two in self-defense with his own firearm. However, after hitting Parker in the head, rendering him unconscious on the floor, and chasing the armed criminal out to the street, Ersland returned, obtained another firearm, and returned to Parker, still laying on the floor, and fired five shots into Parkers abdomen, shots that the medical examiner states killed Parker.

Without getting into too much legalese for this short article, I want to address the very basics in that to legally defend yourself using physical force against another person, there must be three factors present.

1. means
2. opportunity
3. intent

At the beginning, it appears all three were present. The criminals interred the store brandishing a weapon. The one had a firearm so he had the means (tools or skills readily accessible to commit the crime). They had opportunity (the conditions immediately favorable to commit the crime) because they were right there in the store ready to rob it. From a reasonable standpoint, it sure looked on video tape they had intent (mental state at the time of the crime). Why else would you bust into a store waving a firearm (and I don't know what they demanded) if not for the intent of committing a crime?

From everything I saw on the surveillance video, it sure appeared that Ersland was justified in defending himself when the criminals burst into his store waving a firearm and demanding whatever they were demanding. Even District Attorney David Prater said Ersland was justified in shooting Parker once in the head.

However, Prater stated that the teenager was unconscious, unarmed, lying on his back and posing no threat when Ersland fired what the medical examiner said were the fatal shots.

In general, a person is only justified to use deadly force to stop the threat, and the threat must be one that is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. The force you use must be reasonable, which means the level of force that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation. That the big question. What would a reasonable person do in the same situation?

I think it is reasonable to use deadly force, Ersland's firearm, when criminals burst into his store with firearms of their own. However, going back and shooting Parker when he was no longer a threat goes beyond the general rule of being allowed to use deadly force to stop the threat. This is why Ersland is being charged with murder, and this is where the legal system will have to determine based on all of the evidence and circumstances if what Ersland did was reasonable. If no plea bargain is entered into, a jury of Ersland's peers will determine the outcome of this tragic event.

I say tragic because I believe it is always tragic when people are robbed and people are killed. This incident affects many more than Parker and Ersland. I stand 100% behind people's right to defend themselves, that's why I teach hapkido and self-defense classes including firearm use. But we must also know the law and ensure what we do stays within those parameters set by our society. I want people to avoid criminal charges should they ever need to use empty hand or weapon skills to defend themselves or others.

If you practice self-defense or own a weapon to defend yourself or loved ones, and I believe everyone should do so because defending yourself is your responsibility because you are the only one that is going to be there in the dire time of need, then you must also familiarize yourself with the laws regarding justifiable use of force. You must know when you are justified and what use of force is allowable for different situations. By learning these beforehand, and incorporating them into your self-defense scenario based training, you will be better prepared to defend yourself from the bad guys and not have to defend yourself against criminal prosecution for crossing the line in self-defense.

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Alain Burrese has 1 articles online

Alain Burrese, J.D. is a performance and personal development expert who teaches how to live, take action, and get things done through the Warrior's Edge. Alain combines his military, martial art, and Asian experiences with his business, law, and conflict resolution education into a powerful way of living with balance, honor, and integrity. He teaches how to use the Warrior's Edge to Take Action and Achieve Remarkable Results. Alain is also a hapkido/self-defense instructor, former U.S. Army sniping instructor, and the author of Hard-Won Wisdom From The School Of Hard Knocks, the DVDs Hapkido Hoshinsul, Streetfighting Essentials, Hapkido Cane, the Lock On Joint Locking series, and numerous articles and reviews. You can read more articles, over 100 reviews, and see clips of his DVDs as well as much more at

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Crossing the Line in Self-Defense

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This article was published on 2010/04/02