January 2013 - Pg 12-Attorney Question
The problem with using a knife in self defense is that most people don’t know that they’ve been cut. So you have to hit this guy five or six or seven times and often that won’t work to get him to stop. That makes it look like you weren’t defending yourself; it makes it look like you were attacking.”
And Marc is describing an individual who has had significant knife combat training, not the average citizen who has maybe taken a class or two, watched a video and then stuck a knife of some sort on his belt for “self-defense.”
In Minnesota, for example, there is language found in the case law which suggests that the very fact that the attacker suffered multiple knife wounds provides evidence of the defendant’s intent to kill. In State vs. Chambers, the court held that testimony from a pathologist that the pattern and nature of an individual’s wounds proved that the defendant intended to kill him was inadmissible, but did not rise to the level of reversible prejudice. “The defendant was not prejudiced because the jury readily could have found that whoever inflicted the wounds did so with an intent to kill given that the victim was stabbed eight times including a fatal elongated neck incision.”
So, defense counsel is going to have to do everything in their power to create a jury that can understand knife combat dynamics, and knife design and function, as well as knife wound physiology and pathology, before they start to deliberate on the ultimate question of whether the actions of the accused rise to the level of a justifiable use of deadly force in self defense.
And, the prosecution is going to be fighting the introduction of this evidence at every step of the proceeding. If the defendant finds him/herself in front of a Judge such as the one involved in the 2011 Minnesota case involving "S.M.L., Child," the defense is going to be at a decided disadvantage. In S.M.L., the court ruled that a small pocket knife possessed by a child (as a gift from his mother) was a “dangerous weapon” since, “the cutting edge . . . appears to be sharp and serrated, easily capable of cutting animal or human flesh, with a dark handle, much more menacing in appearance than a pen, letter opener, eating utensil, or small pocket knife” and “[t]he locking feature renders the knife safer for the user but more dangerous to the potential victim because the knife will not close upon the fingers of the user.”
The Minnesota Court of Appeals eventually overturned a verdict which convicted S.M.L., observing that the rationale employed by the trial Judge was ludicrous, but not before a significant amount of time had passed and dollars spent.
So, defending the knife-wielding citizen in a self-defense case is going to add multiple layers of complexity to the task, a whole new set of experts who may, or may not get to testify, and significant additional expenses to an already very expensive criminal defense.
Jon H. Gutmacher, Esq.
Jon H. Gutmacher, P.A.
2431 Aloma Ave., Ste. 124, Winter Park, FL 32792
Using a knife is no different than a firearm legally–although a lot more messy. If there are multiple stab wounds, it is like multiple shots from a firearm. There are also forensic issues that the Medical Examiner may testify to such as turning the knife after entry, amount of force used to drive the knife depth, etc. I think a gun case is easier to handle, but the one knife homicide I defended was just like any other self-defense case with the additional complications just mentioned.
Emanuel Kapelsohn, Esq.
Lesavoy Butz & Seitz LLC
7535 Windsor Drive #200 Allentown, PA 18195
Home office 484-504-1345
Although I’ve never had such a case, I believe defending a “self-defense with a knife” prosecution could well be more difficult than defending a firearms self-defense case. This would be especially true if the defendant (defender) were carrying the knife on his person, and the incident occurred in a public place that was neither his/her home nor place of work. In comparison, I think a case of true self defense in one’s home or business, where a knife (for instance, a knife from the kitchen) was used because it was the most readily available weapon, would be more likely to garner the jury’s sympathy.