One of the conditions of using deadly force in self-defense is that one be facing an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm. That definition of imminence is well captured by Black’s Law Dictionary:
Immediate danger, such as must be instantly met, such as cannot be guarded against by calling for the assistance of others or the protection of the law . . . Such an appearance of threatened and impending injury as would put a reasonable and prudent person to his instant defense.
In other words, the threat is about to happen right now.
When do defendant’s lose their claim of self-defense on the element of imminence? When the threat is to occur in the future and has not yet ripened, or when the threat has already passed. In either circumstance there is no currently existing imminent threat that must be necessarily neutralized by defensive force.
Imminence arose starkly in a recent “defensive” shooting by Tom Greer, an 80-year-old California man whose home had been invaded and he himself seriously injured by a pair of twenty-year-old ne’er-do-wells: 26-year-old Gus Adams and 28-year-old Andrea Miller. (Usual caveat: the facts as described are drawn from a “news” story reported in the Daily News. Also, a grateful h/t to Charles C.W.Cooke of National Review Online for being the first to bring this to my attention.)
Although there were many points during the course of the physical fight in which Greer would have had a robust self-defense argument for his use of deadly force against Adams and Miller, his actual use of such force appears to have occurred well after the imminence “window” had closed.
Read all the details over at my post at Legal Insurrection: