The ‘Reasonable Man’ Defense

On June 17, 2015, Marine Sergeant Lawrence Hutchins III was found guilty of murder in the killing of an Iraqi civilian in 2006, and sentenced to 11 years in jail. The murder stemmed from an event where the patrol Hutchins was a part of selected and pulled out a civilian, executed him, and placed a weapon next to his body, claiming that it was in self-defense. On July 2, 2012, 1LT Clint Lorance was found guilty of ordering the murder of two civilians whom he claimed were a threat to the patrol and was sentenced to 19 years in prison. He claimed that he made the decision to protect his men.

The burden of responsibility is just that, a burden. While being in charge can be an incredible opportunity to do right, it can just as quickly turn bad based on poor decisions. But, who gets to decide whether the decision was right or wrong? Who is the judge and jury in these cases? One of the chief discussions when these cases are tried by the military is the ‘reasonable man’ defense. This is now often referred to as the reasonable person defense, but the concept is pretty self-explanatory: “how would a reasonable person under similar circumstances react or be affected by such behavior.” In other words, if other people were put in that position, what would they do?

CourtroomThis is a challenging defense to mount, because most people will never be put in the same position with the same context as the individual using the defense. It is hard to imagine being a police officer breaking up an argument at a pool party, let alone the experiences of that police officer prior to the event. Imagine trying to take on all of the knowledge and experiences that led up to an incident in combat, and then without any knowledge of what would happen afterwards, determine if you would do the same things.

This leads to a significant amount of potential bias in the situation, and therefore the reasonable man defense is often considered a very subjective and personal approach. It has been used to explain why service members felt the need to defend themselves against threats that turned out to be incorrect. It is within the Rules of Engagement for combat that allows any service member the right to defend themselves against perceived threats to their lives. It is, in essence, a catch all for many of the actions that occur in combat.

With the two examples given at the beginning though, it is apparent that not all actions in combat are deemed reasonable. While the military does standardize training and makes all attempts to clarify the rules of engagement, it is unlikely that all will be able to make quick choices and snap judgments which will always be correct. It must be remembered that personal responsibility and accountability must be present both on and off the battlefield, regardless of rank or position. That is, in fact, what a reasonable person would expect.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Kyle Bradley

Kyle Bradley is a U.S. Army Infantry veteran. He served in Operation Desert Storm. Kyle is also a veteran of law enforcement, where he served with one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the state of South Carolina. His duties included Special Response Team-Sniper Section Team Leader, K9 Unit EDD (Explosive Detection Dog), Tactical Tracking Team and Search and Recovery Dive Team.

Kyle has been with US Patriot Tactical since 2009 and is currently Manager of the Ft. Stewart location and the law enforcement sales representative for the state of Georgia.
Kyle Bradley
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