Copyright © 1999 All rights reserved.
"For what reason do you
come?" the master asked. "I have come to learn the art of
self-defense," I replied -- as if in the question, the answer was
also contained. "And which self do you wish to defend?" He
responded as if still the question had not been answered.
-- Thomas M. White, Three Golden Pearls on a
String: The Esoteric Teachings of Karate-Do and the Mystical Journey
of a Warrior Priest [FN1]
Most martial art and self-defense classes teach
you how to kick, punch, and scream. Most help you learn balance and
self-confidence. And some even show you ways of blocking and moving. But
few help you wrestle with the really hard questions, things like what
are you willing to die for, kill for, and live with afterwards.
For example, what are you willing to die
for? The twenty dollars in your wallet and your watch? A dance with some
stranger at a bar? A dispute over a parking spot? Your job?
Your religion? Your mother-in-law?
What are you willing to kill for? The twenty
dollars in your wallet and your watch? A date or marriage gone
sour? Your child's virginity?
And what are you willing to live with
afterwards? What happens if you said that you would rather die than be
raped, then panic when the time comes and get raped without being
killed? During World War II, for instance, United States Army research
that almost half of American combat infantrymen wouldn't shoot their
rifles at another human being, even to save their own lives. Besides, if
you are a shooter, what happens if you shoot at a suspected burglar and
then discover that it was your son sneaking in after a hot date?
The possibilities are endless.
Yet a total self-defense program must
encompass all these questions, and more. So see your spiritual advisor.
Read your scriptures. Do some serious thinking about a serious subject.
And decide in advance what are you willing to die for, kill for, and
live with afterwards.
To help you avoid doing anything illegal, I
have chosen to provide you with a brief look at American criminal law.
The following discussion is based on an informal study of American legal
history and the United States military's Uniform Code of Military
Justice. Although it has been reviewed by some attorneys, it does not
accurately describe the laws of any particular jurisdiction. Neither
does it substitute for the services of a licensed attorney specializing
in criminal jurisprudence. It is simply information. Treat it
Definitions of Key Legal Terms
Bench trial: A bench trial is a trial held by
a judge alone, without recourse to jury. Except for cases where the
prosecution is demanding the death penalty or life imprisonment, most
trials are bench trials.
Crime: Crime consists of disobeying some
local law. Since local laws are written by people instead of God, law
enforcement generally has more to do with protecting the wealthy people
in a community than it has to do with justice.
Criminal justice: Criminal justice is a
euphemism for the delicate balance between state power and individual
rights. In pre-modern societies, criminal justice was the purview of
priests and princes, while in the modern United States, it is the
purview of lawyers.
Cultural norms: Cultural norms describe
what people do when they think that no one is looking, and are what keep
most people acting decently toward one another. When individuals or
cultures have conflicting norms, then the criminal statutes invariably
favor the rights of the politically dominant individuals or cultures.
Deadly force: In North American
jurisprudence, deadly force is defined as being an amount of force that
can be expected to cause death or serious bodily harm. This
includes the use of improvised weapons such as skillets and hammers as
well as the use of obvious weapons such as firearms and knives. Attacks
by boxers and other trained martial artists are generally construed as
being sufficient to cause death or serious bodily harm. Courts usually
allow people to use deadly force in self-defense when all three of the
following conditions are met:
• All means of non-violent and non-lethal
means of self-defense have failed.
• Death or serious bodily harm will result if you do nothing.
• The use of deadly force does not significantly increase the
risk of injury for innocent bystanders. This third requirement usually
precludes the use of firearms. For bullets travel miles unless stopped
by something, and only 16 percent of the shots fired in combat by
trained shooters, such as New York City police officers, ever hit their
intended targets. The rest end up zinging around the neighborhood, and
you are legally responsible for any damage they do.
Excessive force: Excessive force refers to
the use of more force than a judge decides was necessary to have caused
an altercation to end. While this involves considerable
armchair-quarterbacking, most judges consider it excessive if you keep
hitting someone after he or she has fallen to the ground, or if you use
weapons or unarmed combat skills in response to simple assaults. And as
most criminal trials are ultimately tried by a judge without recourse to
jury, the judges' opinions matter a great deal.
Lesser included offense: Lesser included
offenses are minor crimes included in a larger crime. For instance,
aggravated assault is a lesser included offense within a charge of
homicide, while breaking and entering is a lesser included offense
within a charge of burglary. Lesser included offenses become important
when the prosecution cannot prove the original, more serious, charge, or
when the defense is trying to trade a guilty plea for probation.
Plea bargaining: Plea bargaining is
admitting guilt to a lesser included offense in order to escape
punishment for a more serious offense. The process became standard
practice in Federal courts around 1916, and was common throughout the
United States by 1927.
Self-defense: It is generally a legal
defense to a charge of homicide, assault, or battery to show that you
had reason to believe that you were about to become the victim of
serious bodily harm. However, you must simultaneously prove that
you tried every other reasonable way of avoiding the situation. This
includes running away and calling 911. You also lose this right to
self-defense if you started the fight, chose to engage in mutual combat,
or committed the defense solely in the protection of property. Errors in
judgment don't count, either. So if you get into a fight on behalf of
someone else, and that person is later found to have been the legal
aggressor, then you become the aggressor's accomplice, and risk
conviction for assault, battery, or manslaughter, as appropriate.
Self-incrimination: Under current United
States law, you cannot be required to incriminate yourself. So when the
police ask you what happened at a crime scene, you are under no
obligation to tell them. This right against
self-incrimination does not extend outside the United States, and for
poor people and minorities, did not exist even in the United States
Crimes Involving Assault
Assault: Assault occurs when you offer to commit unlawful
violence on someone else. This offer does not have to be
completed. Saying "I'm going to break your face"
constitutes assault, as does threatening to punch someone in the nose or
to have your dog bite him.
Battery: Battery occurs whenever you
touch someone in a way that the other person doesn't like. No force is
required. So spitting on someone is chargeable as battery.
Breach of the peace: Anything that disturbs
the public tranquility or the community morals constitutes a legal
breach of the peace. Due to the difficulty of getting acquaintances to
testify against one another, fist fights and domestic violence are
frequently charged as breaches of the peace.
Grievous bodily harm: If an attacker uses
sufficient force to blind, cripple, or disfigure his victim, then the
attack is judged capable of causing grievous bodily harm. This
increases the severity of the crime from battery to aggravated
assault or mayhem. Since males are the perpetrators of most
aggravated assaults, the use of the male pronoun here is intentional.
(The main exception lies in the blinding, crippling, and disfiguring of
infants, where the children's mothers lead the way.)
Manslaughter: Manslaughter is charged
after accidental killings. For example, if you punch someone in the nose
and he dies, then you may be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
You didn't mean to do it, and the attack shouldn't have been lethal, but
there you are with a stiff on the floor. Or, if after being raped,
you run to your purse, draw your .22 pistol, and shoot your attacker
seven times and kill him, then you could be convicted of voluntary
manslaughter. For your life was no longer in danger, but you
chose to use deadly force anyway. And, if you wait a few hours or
days before shooting that attacker, then you risk conviction for first-degree
murder. For your physical well-being was no longer at risk, while
your timing suggested planning and premeditation.
Provoking words or gestures: Upraised
digits are provoking gestures, while shouts of "Your mother wears
combat boots" are provoking words. Truth is not necessarily a
defense to the charge, especially if the court can be convinced the
words or gestures were intended to provoke anger or violence, or
otherwise disturb the public tranquillity.
Willfully discharging a firearm, thereby
endangering human life: This is a lesser included offense within the
charge of assault with a weapon. It is what homeowners who shoot
at burglars are often convicted of. However, those homeowners are
probably lucky at that. For should they miss the burglar but kill their
neighbor, who had come outside to see what all the commotion was about,
then they face conviction on the charge of negligent homicide, or second-degree
Crimes of a Sexual Nature
Assault with intent to commit rape: Men are charged with this
crime following violent attacks on women and girls committed for the
sole purpose of gratifying lust. The key elements in proving the
charge are showing that the attack was sexually and not economically
motivated (e.g., a robbery) and that the attacker intended to use force
to overcome resistance.
Indecent acts: Indecent acts are acts
of a sexual nature that offend community standards. This is an
admittedly fuzzy definition, since Hollywood and Las Vegas have
different community standards than rural Utah. Still, the indecent acts
charged under these statutes are usually more than peccadillos.
For example, child pornography, spousal rape, and child molestation are
frequently charged under these statutes.
Indecent assault: Indecent assault
involves physically assaulting someone other than your spouse for the
purposes of gratifying lust. (The idea that a husband could sexually
assault his wife was not seriously considered by North American courts
until 1977, when Oregon dropped the husband's immunity to prosecution.)
Indecent assault does not require the use of force and does not require
heroic levels of resistance. So date rape, which offers the
prosecution the problem of proving degrees of consent and resistance, is
generally charged as indecent assault instead of rape.
Forcible rape: Forcible rape involves
direct genital contact between an adult male and a female that is
brought about following the use or threat of violence or force.
For conviction on this charge, the victim must normally come from a
higher social class than the attacker, have resisted the assault to the
point of unconsciousness or death, and have a previously unblemished
Statutory rape: In modern legal usage,
consensual sex between an adult and a minor is termed statutory rape.
Originally statutory rape laws were used to protect girls aged less than
ten to twelve years of age. However, the idea of consensual teenage sex
began to bother lawmakers during the 1880s. So the age of female
majority was gradually raised to sixteen to eighteen years of age.
(Tennessee went so far as to make it twenty-one.) These
turn-of-the-century laws still stand in most jurisdictions, and are
occasionally enforced when high school teachers or clergymen (male or
female) are caught having affairs with their charges.
Sodomy: Sodomy describes genital
contact between the mouth or anus of two people. In theory, it does not
matter if these people are male or female, married or unmarried.
However, there are no known convictions for female homosexual activity
in the United States before World War II, and it is extremely unlikely
that a conviction could be gotten for consensual sodomy between a man
and a woman married to one another. So the law applies mostly to male
homosexual activity. Sodomy charges also can be brought in cases
involving genital contact between people and animals, or in cases
involving the forcible introduction of foreign objects into the vagina
or anus. However, as these latter acts do not carry the threat of
unwanted pregnancy, lawmakers historically have not treated them as
seriously as rape.
Crimes against Property
Breaking and entering: This is what you will be charged with if
your neighbor calls the police to complain about your entering his
garage to recover your lawn mower without his permission. It is also
charged following burglary arrests where there is not sufficient
evidence to prove housebreaking or burglary.
Burglary: Burglary involves forcibly
entering a building after dark with the intent of burning the building,
or robbing or assaulting its occupants. To prove the crime, it is
necessary to show forcible entry and to prove that the perpetrator
intended to commit an assault or a robbery while on the premises. When
these standards cannot be met (such as when the perpetrator entered
through an open door or window), then the crime is charged as some
lesser crime, such as entering, breaking and entering, or criminal
Criminal trespass: Criminal trespass
involves being caught on someone else's private property without the
prior consent of the owner or his authorized agent. The crime is a
convenient catchall frequently used by the police for the purposes of
intimidation and social control.
Housebreaking: Housebreaking involves
forcibly entering a building during the day with the intent of burning
the building, or robbing or assaulting its occupants. It is necessary to
prove both the forcible entry and the criminal intent to prove the
charge. As the penalties for daylight break-ins are less than those for
nocturnal break-ins, professional burglars tend to operate during the
daytime instead of the nighttime.
Larceny: Larceny involves taking
something of value without any intent of returning it. Unlike
robbery, larceny does not involve the use or threat of force. So
smash-and-grab jewelry raids, shoplifting, and car theft are chargeable
as larcenies, not robberies. The difference between grand larceny (a
felony) and petit larceny (a misdemeanor) is the dollar value of the
Robbery: Robbery involves taking
something of value through the use or threat of violence. Knocking
someone unconscious, then stealing his money, is robbery. However,
taking the wallet from an already unconscious person is only larceny. So
you or a witness have to see your assailant hit you for him to be
convicted of robbery.
Wrongful appropriation: Wrongful
appropriation means taking something of value with the intent of
temporarily depriving the owner of its use. Joyriding is a
commonly charged example of wrongful appropriation. However, using
company-owned office machines for personal use is the most common
If you decide to resist criminal acts using violence, then I
recommend using a degree of violence that will send you to jail for less
time than the crime that you chose to resist. In other words, do not
assault a minor to prevent a larceny, or discharge a firearm in response
to provoking words or gestures.
The following table, which lists the maximum sentences possible
under the United States military's Uniform Code of Military Justice, is
provided to help you make these determinations. Check with your attorney
to learn the comparable statutes and punishments for wherever you live,
work, or travel.
Crime Maximum sentence
(click and open the frame to the left to get
Assault consummated by battery
Breach of the peace
Provoking words or gestures
Willfully discharging a firearm
Assault on a minor
Assault with intent to commit injury
Assault with dangerous weapon
Assault that results in maiming
Assault with a firearm
Assault with intent to commit murder
Assault with intent to commit sodomy
Assault with intent to commit rape
Wrongful appropriation, item under $100
Wrongful appropriation, item over $100
Breaking and entering
Larceny, item under $100
Wrongful appropriation, vehicle
Larceny, item over $100
Robbery with a firearm
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Violent
Although there is much to be said for being
aware of your surroundings and who is in them, the best ways to avoid
becoming the victim of violent crime involve giving equal respect to
everyone and avoiding alcohol, firearms, narcotics, and the men and boys
who abuse them. (Men and boys are responsible for nearly 90 percent of
all crimes involving physical injury to others. When women are the
perpetrators of physically violent crimes, it is generally as the
vengeful victims of sexual abuse or as the batterers of their own infant
children. This isn't to say that the women and girls may not incite the
violence through their behavior, mind you, only that the people they
physically abuse are generally not healthy adult males but instead
children under the age of five, the elderly, and the physically and
The following are some additional
suggestions concerning ways to reduce your risk of being the victim of
• Vote for judges and legislators who are
more interested in justice than maintaining their own privileged
• Pay attention to how your police act, and complain to your
lawmakers when they do not act appropriately.
• Don't shirk jury duty.
• Get a job. For one thing, most robbery victims are
unemployed. And for another, the police often respond faster to
complaints from wealthy people than they do to complaints from poor
• Get a new job if your current one requires you to publicly
handle cash, firearms, liquor, or prescription drugs.
• Use all available safety equipment, to include
impact-resistant glasses, fire or bullet-resistant body armor, seat
belts, and non-slip safety shoes.
• Pay attention to your surroundings. For if something looks
wrong, then it probably is. Be sure to locate fire escapes, burglar
alarms, and back doors, and know how and when to use them.
• Plan ahead. For example, plan on pulling fire alarms if you
are attacked in a hotel hallway, or pushing elevator alarm buttons if
attacked in an elevator. Know where the fire stations and all-night
businesses are located on your route to and from work or play. Fuel
and service your automobile regularly. Stock emergency supplies in
your house and car. Etc.
• If you are physically battered by someone with whom you
live, move out and don't come back. A study done in Kansas City in
1971 showed that 40 percent of homicides involved a previous history
of domestic violence.
• Be blunt about what sexual acts you will and will not
perform, and with whom. Studies have shown that sexual predators
easily confuse any qualifiers to the word "No" to mean
• Consider using violence to resist sexual predators. Studies
have shown that sexual predators are more excited by your fear than by
your genitals. So sustained physical resistance frequently deters
• Don't be too proud to call for help. Nine-One-One is
only three digits away, and paying false alarm fees to police
departments and fire companies is cheaper than paying emergency room
bills and better than paying mortuary expenses.
• Avoid promiscuity. This reduces your risk of assault,
robbery, and extortion, improves your chances of securing the
conviction of men who rape you, and lowers your risk of acquiring a
sexually-transmitted disease. (The latter, by the way, ruin the lives
of more North American adults than do street criminals.)
• Don't sexually or physically abuse your children. Also
seriously investigate your children's claims about others abusing
them. For this greatly lowers the risk of your children running away
from home, and then becoming criminals or dead.
• Don't flash cash or flaunt expensive watches and jewelry. Be
particularly careful around banks, convenience stores, and cash
• Don't open your doors to strangers or to people or whom you
have reason to fear. Drunks, former spouses, and known drug dealers
are examples of people to avoid.
• Live within your means and pay your debts on time. This
keeps you safe from stock-market crashes and shylocks.
• Finally, quit trying to get something for nothing. This
protects you from swindlers and stock-market frauds and simultaneously
reduces the demand for stolen goods.
How to Avoid Crime in Your Home
• Know who belongs in your neighborhood.
• Report suspicious activity to the police.
• Avoid living in faceless suburbs and apartment houses, or in
any buildings built along major thoroughfares. Instead, choose to live
in quiet residential neighborhoods that have long-established families
living in them. The race, gender, and income level of the people
living in a neighborhood are much less significant than their
• Arrange to have housemates with schedules opposite yours.
The goal is to have a responsible adult whom you trust inside your
home as much of the time as possible.
• Know your neighbors.
• Install strong frames around all your windows and doors.
Also replace the cheap locks and doors your builder used with higher
• Install smoke detectors in your bedrooms, a heat sensor in
your kitchen, and put a burglar alarm decal on every window.
• Don't leave valuables lying about. Valuables include
firearms, liquor, and pharmaceuticals (both licit and illicit).
• Don't leave loaded firearms lying about. You are legally
responsible for those weapons, and whatever damage they do.
• Don't leave keys under the mat or on top of the ledge.
• Finally, keep a metal flashlight and a telephone next to
your bed, and a well-stocked emergency kit in your closet. This
emergency kit should include clothes, blankets, food (don't forget
your pets!), water, fresh batteries, a battery-operated radio, and
emergency medical supplies, to include all current prescription
How to Protect Yourself While in Your
• Pay attention to your surroundings, and
immediately report suspicious activities to the police. For once
again, if something looks wrong, then it probably is.
• Always roll up your windows and lock your doors when you are
not in your car -- even for a moment. If somebody waves you to pull
over, check the mirrors and the gages. Is the car on fire? If not,
then don't stop for the guy waving, go to the nearest gas station
instead. The reason is that rapists and carjackers like waving people
• When driving about town, also lock your windows and doors
when in your car. This may require that you buy models with air
conditioning, but that seems a small price to pay for increased
• Always have your car keys out before you get to the door.
• Keep your car in good mechanical condition, and check its
• Don't leave unattended valuables in your car. This includes
cellular telephones, cassette decks, and firearms under your seat.
• Don't buy a vehicle that is frequently stolen or that has a
poor safety record. Your insurer will tell you which models these are,
either through a phone call in advance or through higher premiums
• Park your car only in well-lighted and well-frequented
garages and parking lots. If the lot does not seem safe, then
avoid using it if you can. And if you cannot avoid using it, be sure
that you know where the fire alarms and exits are before entering and
have a friend, store clerk, or security guard go with you to your car
with you when you return to it.
• Check your car for signs of tampering -- to include people
hiding in the back seat -- before you get into it.
• Don't get out of your car following a traffic accident if
the other party seems belligerent or drunk. Instead, stay in
your still-running car and trade information through a window opened
just a crack. Also stay inside your car if the traffic is heavy, or if
the visibility is impaired. Many motorists are run over while standing
in the street looking at the damage, or while lying alongside their
car trying to fix their flat tire.
• Keep a well-stocked emergency kit in your car. This kit
should include recent maps; a fire extinguisher; a flashlight with
fresh batteries and extra bulbs; bottled juice or water; antifreeze;
motor oil; an empty fuel can; flares and warning triangles; jumper
cables; pliers; screwdrivers; tire chains; an air compressor that
plugs into your cigarette lighter; a hydraulic jack rated to three or
more tons; a lug wrench with a cheater bar; a small shovel; an extra
fan belt; a roll of duct tape; warm clothes or a blanket; rain gear;
walking shoes; and a first aid kit designed to treat severe trauma.
Also know how to use these items.
• Finally, wear seatbelts, drive soberly and courteously
whenever possible (turn signals are there for a reason), and if some
fool threatens to shoot, drive like hell.
Weapons are proven equalizers during fights.
However, one problem with weapons is having them in hand when you need
them. Another problem with weapons is that you must practice regularly
with them to maintain any degree of confidence or skill. And a third
problem is that your weapons must not routinely put you, your friends
and loved ones, or the community into particular danger, or turn you
into a criminal.
Given these parameters, cellular telephones are
the best self-defense devices available. Not only are they relatively
inexpensive, but they are usable for many purposes and are legal
Anodized aluminum flashlights are also well worth having. Not only do
they scare away the dark, but they also make dandy clubs. AA and AAA
lights are my favorites, mainly because they are small enough to carry
in your pocket or purse. (I mean, the six-cell lights are great, but
they wear such nasty holes in your clothes.)
Pepper sprays come highly recommended by many
authorities. However, I am not so sure. For example, no spray works
well against upwind attackers. Furthermore, they are frequently
illegal to own or operate. Their propellants expire. And worst of all,
their dispensers leak. This said, the devices that deliver their
sprays along a flashlight beam seem practical. (By the way, should you
get an accidental discharge, or discover yourself downwind from the
attacker you meant to spray, immediately wash yourself and your
clothes with plenty of cold water, then avoid touching your eyes or
genitals for several hours afterwards.)
And of course there are always firearms. If you
can get a concealed weapon permit and practice, practice, practice,
then probably these are okay. But leaving a loaded gun in the sock
drawer for twenty years "just in case" is ludicrous.
Most self-defense classes and books teach
fantasy violence. The reason is that no class or book is going to give
you much protection against the neighborhood bully, let alone a
serious hunter. Even firearms are not an aegis, and for that matter
even professionally operated Aegis systems sometimes shoot down
unarmed jetliners. Therefore avoidance followed by seeking help (to
include dialing 911 on your cellular phone or setting off fire alarms)
is better for almost all purposes than violent self- defense, and
That said, the law rarely denies your
right to use lethal force in defense of human life. In practice,
however, remember that laws reward submissive self-defense rather than
violent self-defense. You doubt this? Then look at the American
Indians. They fought for their rights, and the US, British, Mexican,
and Russian governments spent 300 years exterminating them. On the
other hand in 1942 the Japanese Americans went peacefully into
concentration camps. Fifty years later they received $20,000 apiece
and a grudging apology from the US government, and in 1999 a Japanese
American was Chief of Staff of the Army. Been to an Indian reservation
Let me repeat this: governments, like
parents, reward submissive behavior, and as a result there is much to
be said for avoidance as a method of long-term survival.
Anyway, caveats and warnings aside, let's
say that you really screwed up. You failed to plan. You failed to
avoid. And now you just failed to extricate yourself from a really bad
situation. So now you're seriously considering the use of
violence in physical self-defense. Well, since you're wrong already,
you might as well go for it. The key here is to remain outwardly
a victim as long as possible. That way the attacker will pay less
attention to you and thereby increase your odds of making a successful
For example, if attacked by multiple
assailants, give some thought to the vampire defense. You use this to
resolve the problem posed by that so-called deadly fighting art whose
publicists ask what you'd do if you and a female companion are
attacked by four unpleasant men. Your companion is evidently a bimbo,
because she does nothing. You meanwhile can't figure out how to get
more than one of the heavies before the other three get you. My
solution is the vampire defense. You take hold of the one you can get,
and rather than attempting to strangle him instead you rip his throat
out with your teeth. Then as he flops around spraying blood you start
advancing on the second one, saying with your bright red smile,
"God, I love oral sex. But once is never enough."
Likewise, if attacked in your car,
remember that the car is a 3,000 pound weapon. Hit an abutment at 90
miles an hour and the guy in the passenger seat is going to look at
least as bad as you. (As a general rule, psychotics really hate
dealing with other psychotics.)
In short, plan ahead. But if you
screw up, then do what you must. In the process, keep in mind that all
laws of human combatives boil down to just three fundamentals. To
quote Captain Thomas Dicken, writing in Marine Corps Gazette in May
If it needs to be killed, kill it.
If it doesn't need to be killed, don't kill it.
If you see somebody killing something that doesn't need to be
killed, try to stop them.
Didn't think so.
What to Do if Arrested
If you choose to engage in violent self-defense,
expect to get arrested afterwards. The following is advice concerning
what to do when the police come for you.
• Stay calm.
• Be polite, and don't resist arrest. For your resistance only
encourages the arresting officers to spray you with chemical
irritants, shock you with stun guns, beat you with sticks, and then
charge you with resisting arrest.
• Remember that everything you say to the police can and will
be used against you in a court of law, and that your rights against
self-incrimination don't mean much unless you can afford good lawyers.
So don't volunteer any information except your name, address, and
telephone number unless your lawyer is present. This includes
volunteering information to cell mates or friends. For the police
often bug their jail cells and telephones, and use cell mates as
• Use your one phone call wisely. Your best bet is your
mother or your spouse. After all, you want to reach a person,
not an answering machine.
• If you have a VISA or a MasterCard, consider using it to
post your bail. The reason is that bail bondsmen keep a
substantial percentage of your posted bail even if the police admit
that they made a mistake and let you go scot-free. And if you are
guilty as sin, and decide to skip town immediately after posting bail,
then the bondsmen will take your mother's house or whatever else it
was that you or she used as collateral, then send gorillas looking for
you. On the other hand, the bank that owns the credit card company
could care less what the postmark says, so long as your monthly
payment reaches its offices on time.
• Regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty, always
hire the best criminal lawyer that you can find. Check with your state
bar association and see who this is; you want a local Perry Mason if
you can get one. (This lawyer needs to be local, too. Otherwise he or
she may offend local political sensibilities.) While said lawyer's
fees will cause you to sell your car and refinance your house, most
people agree that this is preferable to spending long sentences in
squalid, overcrowded prisons where aggravated assault, homicide, and
homosexual rape are commonplace.
• Finally, unless you are charged with homicide, take your
lawyer seriously if he or she suggests plea-bargaining or a bench
trial. Judges are more predictable than juries, and once your case
goes to the jury, then even the most expensive lawyers cannot
guarantee your absolution.
What to Do during a Medical Emergency
Win, lose, or draw, somebody usually gets hurt
resisting violent crime. You obviously want to treat your own
injuries, and you have a legal obligation to treat the injuries of the
people that you caused to become injured, even if they were
feloniously assaulting you at the time. So the following are
suggestions concerning how to respond to the resulting medical
The most important advice is to stay calm. About
a quarter of the people involved in a medical emergency react
appropriately. Just over half wander about in a daze, waiting for
someone to tell them what to do. And the rest respond hysterically. To
make sure that you are part of the first group, keep your first aid
card current and practice your reaction drills at least two times a
The next most important advice is to choose a
course of action that minimizes the risk to everyone concerned. In
other words, don't do anything foolish. While every situation requires
action, few situations require immediate action. Many would-be
rescuers rush unprotected into fires, traffic, or enclosed spaces, and
then get burned, run over, or suffocated in the process. The original
victim, meanwhile, survives. So think first and act second.
If you don't know what to do, then content
yourself with notifying the authorities and guarding the victim until
help arrives. Further, if someone incompetent has taken charge,
don't argue with that person. Instead, immediately telephone for
competent help, and then hold the victim's hand until that help
arrives. Remember: The only thing more frightening to a victim
than being alone is being left with an incompetent rescuer!
Before beginning first aid, always ask the
victim if he wants you to give him first aid. Not all victims will.
And if the victim doesn't want your help and you give it to him
anyway, then he or his survivors can sue you for very large sums of
money. However, the victim's refusal of aid does not relieve you of
your duty to notify the authorities, or to prevent the victim from
injuring himself further. Nor does it preclude you from holding his
hand, or serving as his official comforter.
If you have the victim's consent and choose to
begin first aid, try to find out what happened, and, if you can,
the victim's previous medical history. That way you'll have a better
idea of whether you are dealing with a heart attack or an epileptic
fit. Then set your priorities. The idea is to treat the most
important injuries first. After all, the most obvious or most painful
injury may not be the most important injury. For example, a
bleeding ear is messy. But it is not as serious as a spinal injury or
an exit wound that you can't see. This sounds obvious, but it is
something that is often overlooked, even by trained emergency room
technicians. The point is to take your time and to be systematic about
your procedures. You want to identify and treat every injury, and to
do it right the first time.
After you have identified the problems and prioritized them, then you
are ready to begin treating them. The following are the steps to take,
in the order of priority recommended by the American Red Cross. If any
of these steps are new to you, then I recommend that you get proper
first aid training immediately and certainly before attempting any
• Step 1: Stop any life-threatening
bleeding. Don't use tourniquets, as they
cause irreversible damage to the bound limbs. Instead, use hand
pressure and dressings made from clean clothes, plastic shrink wrap,
or women's sanitary pads. Also do not remove anything sticking out of
a wound. Instead, bandage around these protrusions, and let the
surgeons worry about removing them later. Finally, treat any bleeding
that refuses to stop after a couple of minutes as a life-threatening
• Step 2: Clear the airway.
Use your finger and sweep the throat to clear away debris, such as
broken teeth and dentures, vomit, or the tongue itself. Then keep that
airway clear by having the victim lay on his side with his head facing
downward. If unconsciousness prevents the victim from doing this, then
consider sticking a large safety pin through the victim's tongue and
taping it to his chin. It sounds and looks horrible, but it won't hurt
the victim until he wakes up, and by then the life-threatening
situation has passed.
• Step 3: Treat for shock.
Deep shock, which can be lethal, is rare among combat infantrymen and
other people who reasonably expected to be injured. However, it is
very common among motorists and others who were not expecting to be
injured. The readily observable symptoms of deep shock include
abnormally cold hands, pale skin, abnormal thirst, and dizziness. To
prevent shock from happening, or to minimize its spread, have the
victim lie down. If there are no spinal injuries to worry about,
elevate the victim's feet ten or twelve inches. (However, if there are
suspected spinal injuries, skip this step.) Then have the victim
loosen or remove constricting clothing, such as belts, neckties, or
shoes, and then cover him with a blanket or a coat. For one thing,
this preserves his dignity, and for another, people in shock cool
rapidly. Finally, hold his hand and keep him talking until help
Regardless of what you do or don't do at the scene, don't neglect
to plan for the aftermath. For the threat of stress disorders (including
depression and suicidal tendencies) is particularly high when the victim
dies despite your best efforts, or when your reactions to the situation
were controversial or ill-considered. Possible self-treatments include
humor (there is evidence to suggest that laughter releases biochemicals
related to pain reduction) and vigorous aerobic activities, while
possible group treatments include sharing your experiences with a
support group and obtaining counseling from medical or religious
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FN1. Thomas M. White, Three
Golden Pearls on a String: The Esoteric Teachings of Karate-Do and the
Mystical Journey of a Warrior Priest (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic
Books, 1991). Copyright © 1987, 1991. Reprinted by arrangement with
North Atlantic Books.
FN2. For a detailed discussion
of emergency trauma treatment, see Medicine for Mountaineering and Other
Wilderness Activities, edited by James A. Wilkerson, M.D. (Seattle: The
Mountaineers, 4th edition, 1992).