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  • Writer's picturePeter Lindstrom, Esq.

Comparing Rambo's definition of self defense with Minnesota's criminal jury instruction

"They drew first blood, not me." -Rambo

First a disclaimer, nothing in Rambo should be mimicked for legal and safety reasons. His actions would likely be highly illegal against any citizen. And I cannot stress enough that physical force should never be used against a police officer. The level of charges a person faces gets aggravated and your own safety will be compromised.

Now that that's out of the way, let's look at Rambo's situation in the 1982 movie First Blood. The justification of who hit who first or who drew blood first has some moral persuasiveness. But that will not stop the State from charging you for a crime. Who hit who first is something to take into consideration. But there are other important considerations such as the amount of force you use must be reasonable; you must have reasonable grounds to believe bodily harm is imminent; you must not provoke the incident; and you have a duty to retreat if you are not in your own home. (CRIMJIG 7.13).

If Rambo had been attacked by normal civilians in the way he was assaulted in the jail there would be arguments that his actions were in line with self defense. But as alluded to in the first paragraph, these were members of law enforcement. And there would be no self defense but instead aggravated charges. However, if these were civilians instead of law enforcement his actions in the jail escape scene were arguably a reasonable use of force to prevent imminent bodily harm. He did not use any weapons and fled at the first opportunity he had to get out of the jail. The prosecutor could argue that pushing a man through a window like Rambo did was an unreasonable use of force. But it could also be argued that it was necessary to secure Rambo's retreat from an imminent threat.

As anyone who is familiar with the Rambo series, things escalate later in the film. While Rambo is on the run he causes the death of a helicopter pilot who was part of law enforcement's pursuit of him. The use of deadly force requires that the harm you are facing be either imminent death or imminent great bodily harm. (CRIMJIG 7.15). Rambo did not intentionally kill the helicopter pilot but there are many serious violent felonies a prosecutor could charge Rambo with that do not require intent. I will not dwell too deeply into this incident as the escape from jail over the drawing of first blood is what I want to focus on.

Rambo was a Vietnam Veteran who experienced trauma from being a prisoner of war. As the movie portrays, his response to law enforcement in that situation was at the very least understandable even if it was not legal. It's important to understand that just because something feels right does not mean that you are within the protections of self defense as a legal defense. Somebody else drawing first blood does not entitle you to go on a rampage like Rambo.

But if you do find yourself in a situation where you have been charged where you believe you acted in self defense it is important to hire a skilled criminal defense attorney. As suggested above, there are some facts where the State and the Defense will disagree. Is pushing someone through a window a reasonable amount of force? IT depends a great deal on the circumstances. If the State is arguing facts that you don't agree with, having a skilled criminal defense attorney to argue your case is invaluable. They know the system and will know how to advance your interests. If you've been charged in Minnesota, contact me at 651-248-5142,


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