This is such a hot topic currently, especially after the high profile cases such as the George Zimmerman trial. Even as kids we were always told that if someone had a black belt they would be punished more for fighting someone on the street because by law they were professionally trained for combat, but is this really true? After doing some digging, it appears this varies from state to state, go figure! Like everything in the USA, each state, even each jurisdiction can opt to enforce their own set of rules where assault charges come into play. Add in different judges and you’re looking at not even two cases ever resulting with the same verdict or circumstances.
Evidently, there is one theory that all attorneys agree on concerning the subject and that is in order to claim self-defense you must be acting entirely out of fear that you feel threatened by the other person. What’s interesting is that even if you feel you were acting that day out of 100% fear, it still doesn’t give you total control in the courtroom. It is encouraged that you always exercise caution prior to getting into any street battles as once it becomes your word against someone else’s in the presence of a judge-it’s anyone’s ballgame.
Assault charges can also greatly vary depending upon the damages and situation of the fight. If a party is injured enough the defendant can go to prison for life. A lot of people assume you have to be convicted of murder to get a life sentence and that simply isn’t true. The district attorney’s office will generally get involved if murder has been the result of a self-defense battle and then you’re looking at a very long process before a verdict is concluded regardless if you’re trained in MMA or not.
The grey area in where the law sits is that anyone has the right to defend themselves if they truly believe they are in danger of a bodily injury. When you actually think about that statement, bodily injury can mean a lot of different things to various people. One person may easily presume bodily injury is someone pushing them, whereas another may think being punched in the face is- so it’s necessary for judges to properly review all the specifics to ensure the right disciplinary actions are taken.
To dig deeper into the “trained fighter” myth, there was a lawsuit way back in the 1980’s “State vs. Calvin”. The theme of the incident was that one party was badly assaulted by another with no weapons just their bare fists. What was interesting about this case was that the state looked at it with the theory that even though a tangible weapon wasn’t utilized in the brawl, the defendant was a trained boxer and the court was willing to take that into consideration. Court systems typically assume if one party is trained to fight they would exercise a higher level of control knowing full well what they are capable of. That can’t always be the case though as we live in a society where someone could easily carjack you, or hit you, or try to abuse you in a matter of seconds and people just react; it’s human nature.
To summarize, if you happen to be a 4th Dan Black Belt in a martial art, you may want to exercise caution before choking someone out at the local bar because you just never know what can come of it. Always use common sense when hearing myths like these. There used to actually be people that would claim their boxing hands were “registered” and the court system was aware of their fighting abilities should they get into a fight. This is all totally fictional, so don’t fall for everything you hear. If heaven forbid you do have to defend yourself someday, do it the right way by only exercising force if you have no other option (ex- running away, calling the police, leaving the scene, telling the other party you don’t want any trouble). In the end, the court will find out that you’re trained in self-defense. If you did something irrational and injured someone much more severely than you needed to, you’ll likely be penalized for those actions regardless of your self-defense knowledge.