Things turned ugly last year when a fight erupted at a party in a remote corner of Clatsop County. High on drugs and alcohol, 31-year-old Jeremy Peat punched Air Force veteran Scott Brandon, 27, in the face. After pulling out a can of mace in an attempt to defuse the situation Brandon was knocked down to the ground and attacked. Peat became enraged and started punching Brandon repeatedly in the face, breaking his nose and severely injuring him.
Far outmatched by a much larger opponent, Brandon did the only thing he thought might stop the beating: he pulled a four inch pocket knife and stabbed Peat in the side. Peat's liver was lacerated, stopping the fight cold. Brandon, afraid of what Peat's friends might do, ran into the woods and waited until he could safely return to his friend's car and drive home. Dazed and confused from his concussion, he turned himself in after he saw the news flashing his name and photo on TV.
Peat eventually fully recovered from the stab wound. Brandon, however, was charged with attempted murder and ultimately indicted on one count of first degree assault and one count of second degree assault. At least one charge fell under Measure 11 and if convicted, Brandon would face up to seven and a half years in prison. But had he done anything wrong? Considering Peat's state of intoxication, his huge weight advantage and the level of injury Brandon had already sustained in the fight, Brandon had been placed in a tight spot. He hired Portland criminal defense attorney Jason Short and the Short Law Group, PC to defend him and decided to let a jury decide.
At trial, Brandon's attorney, Jason Short, argued self defense. In Oregon, your actions are not criminal when you use physical force on another person for self defense if you only use the degree of force you reasonably believed to be necessary.
What does that mean? Essentially, the level of force you use cannot exceed that required of the situation. For example, if someone similar to you in size reared back to shove you, you would likely be using excessive force if you pulled a gun and shot him or her, and thus could not claim self defense. In the same situation, however, you could likely have a successful self defense claim if you twisted your attacker's arm to prevent the assault.
To put it in colloquial terms, the basic rule of self defense in Oregon is this: do not do any more than you have to. And remember, what is reasonable depends on the objective facts of the situation; would a normally prudent person, in the same circumstances, have been justified in acting as you did? If so, it may be self defense.
There are a couple special qualifiers to self defense in Oregon. For one thing, you can't have provoked the violence that led you to need to defend yourself (i.e., you can't have been solely responsible for starting a fight). Also, you can only use deadly force to defend yourself or another person under three specifically spelled-out circumstances:
• To stop someone committing or attempting to commit a burglary in a dwelling (i.e., home defense)
In Brandon's case, he was being severely beaten by a much larger man. The assailant, fueled by drugs and alcohol, showed no intention of stopping. It was reasonable to believe nothing short of physical force would stop him.
On Aug. 6, 2012, Brandon's trial drew to a close. He was fully acquitted of all charges on the grounds of self defense. His more than one year ordeal was over.
When you're involved in an altercation, it may not be immediately clear to authorities that you had to take the steps you did to protect yourself. Don't let unfair charges affect your future. Talk to an Oregon criminal defense attorney today for help with your self defense claim. The Gilroy Napoli Short Law Group, PC can be reached at 503-747-7198.
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