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KNIFE DEFENSE LEGAL ISSUES DESERVE STUDY

Interview by Gila Hayes

Many armed citizens carry pocketknives for utility use as well as for last-resort defense if unable to use their gun. Others carry pocketknives at times when carrying a gun is illegal or otherwise prohibited. Like a firearm carried for self defense, a knife’s effectiveness and legal defensibility is in direct proportion to the knowledge and education of the citizen employing it. Just as a leading concern at the Network is assuring that members understand the imperative for articulating the whys and hows of using a firearm for self defense, we also strive to educate about problems that attach to using knives in self defense.

Our journal first introduced this topic in December of 2008, in a lengthy interview with knife and self defense expert Marc MacYoung, who is also the featured speaker lecturing on pre-attack indicators on one of the educational DVD lectures sent to all Network members. We want to continue to expand member knowledge about issues bearing on defending oneself with a knife, and much of this issue of the journal is dedicated to knife concerns.

A few weeks ago, we spoke at length with Spokane County (WA) Public Defender Investigator Troy Bunke, who gave us a great overview and introduction to the topic. During his 20-year career, Bunke has had the challenge of investigating problem cases, identifying exculpatory evidence and helping Public Defender attorneys understand the issues involved. He explains, “The way I look at it, my job as an investigator is to catalog the good, the bad and the ugly, to get to the evidence that we are looking for.”

In addition to his professional expertise, Bunke is an avid student of self defense and has trained extensively with Massad Ayoob, and specifically sought out knife training from Eric Remmen, George Williams, and Insights Training Center, along with his own research into both the laws and any literature on the topic.

Still, he explains that he wishes for better resources, noting, “Even in textbooks published on self defense and use of force there are very few that I’ve ever read that are knife related. That has made it generally a hard topic to learn about.”

Bunke made many interesting observations both about investigating knives used in self defense, pitfalls he has identified and how Network members might avoid them. Let’s go now to our interview with Mr. Bunke.

eJournal: When you investigate a crime in which a knife was used, how often is its use self defense?

Bunke: Since I work for the Public Defender, I will never see any case the state has ruled self defense, either through law enforcement’s initial investigation or the prosecutor’s office deciding not to charge that case. The cases that I generally see are the ones that are not “clean.” Typically, I think, most Network members’ situation would be considered clean: they would not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or would have no prior convictions, would not have harassment issues, and so most of their cases would never make it to me. Once a case has made it to my desk, there is generally something wrong with the case. I do not get clean cases. I do not get cases that are simple and easy to figure out.

The cases that I get have been charged at a felony level, whether those are assault, manslaughter or murder. When we have a knife injury that has produced any significant damage–and the prosecutors will say that almost any knife injury produces significant damage–we are looking at minimum charges of assault or some form of criminal homicide if a death is involved and someone is easily looking at 10 to 20 years in prison for a single significant knife injury.

When I see knife cases, more times than not, the charge is first-degree assault because of the kinds of injuries that have been produced on the victims. I would guess that of the number of homicides that I’ve worked, maybe as high as ten percent were knife cases. In my twenty years, I’ve worked about 90 homicides, and at least ten of those were knife-involved.

[Continued...]