What is the Use of Deadly Force?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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The use of deadly force is when one person acts violently toward another person in a way that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm. Deadly force refers to the action, the act that is intended to cause either serious injury or death, and may often involve the use of a weapon. The use of deadly force can be illegal, but under certain circumstances, which vary among different countries, it can be considered legal and if it results in death may be referred to as justifiable homicide. In various nations, including the United States, military and law enforcement officers are given the right to use deadly force in certain situations and under specified circumstances. Ordinarily citizens can also be allowed to use deadly force under certain, usually very specific, conditions.

Deadly force can often involve the use of bladed weapons or firearms which are used to either seriously harm or kill another person. Though laws vary from country to country and through different regions, there are certain situations in which the use of deadly force is generally accepted or may be defended if necessary. Soldiers in time of war are typically allowed to use deadly force against enemy combatants, though violence against innocents and civilians is typically illegal and can be grounds for a military court martial against a soldier.


Police officers and law enforcement agents are similarly allowed to use deadly force in certain situations, usually for self defense or to protect civilians. Most countries also have laws regulating how deadly force can be used by private citizens as well. In the United States, for example, though different states have specific laws, generally deadly force can be used by private citizens under certain specific conditions. These include self defense, the defense of others, and the prevention of serious or violent crimes.

For the use of deadly force to be acceptable when defending oneself or a third person from an attacker, there must be a reasonable threat of deadly force being used by the attacker. This can include attempted murder or the wielding of a deadly weapon by the attacker. Typically, a defendant arguing that a death was justifiable homicide must have felt an imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to either himself or herself or others around the defendant.

In some areas, deadly force can also be used against someone who is illegally on someone else’s property while committing a violent crime and cannot otherwise reasonably be made to leave. This often also requires a sense of imminent danger to the person or someone else for a case to be made for justifiable homicide. Violent crimes, such as an attempt to commit arson, can be grounds for the use of deadly force by the lawful owner of the property, since this can be a very real threat to himself or herself or to others in the immediate area.


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