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Affirmative Self Defense & Retail Workers

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Connecticut Retail Worker Self-Defense Attorneys

New Haven, CT Criminal Defense Lawyer Representing Retail Workers in Self Defense Cases

Many different types of situations can arise in a retail environment in which a shopper refuses to abide by store policy. There are a wide variety of store policies that may result in a problem from a shopper. In many cases, issues come up when a shopper attempts to steal merchandise from the store. If a retail employee attempts to stop a shopper from violating store policy or from taking merchandise without paying for it, what happens if that employee gets involved in a physical altercation? In other words, can criminal charges be brought against a retail employee if that worker becomes involved in a physical altercation with a shopper in order to prevent that shopper from violating store policy or from violating the law? In such situations, can the employee argue affirmative self-defense?

We want to provide you with more information about affirmative self-defense under Connecticut law, and to discuss how this affirmative defense may apply to employees who are involved in physical altercations in a store.

You Have a Right to Defend Yourself Under Certain Circumstances

Does a retail employee have a right to defend himself or herself when a shopper violates store policy? The answer to that question depends upon a number of factors. Generally speaking, Connecticut law (CT Gen Stat § 53a-19) says that you have a right to defend yourself if you reasonably believe another person is about to use force against you that will result in serious bodily injury or death, and you are not able to completely and safely retreat or surrender property without further fear of violence.

However, you cannot claim self-defense if you are the initial aggressor, you provoke another into using physical force first (such as baiting the other person), or you engage in unlawful mutual combat. An exception to the initial aggressor rule is if you clearly withdraw from the conflict and the other party continues with a high level of force. In such a scenario, even if you were the initial aggressor, you may still be able to claim an affirmative self-defense.

How might this apply to retail workers? This general definition of affirmative self-defense suggests that a retail employee could only engage in acts of physical force as self-defense if that use of physical force was in response to the employee’s fear of his or her own serious bodily injury or death (or the defense of another person who was placed in fear of serious bodily injury or death).

Requirement of a Sincere and Objectively Reasonable Belief that Self Defense Is Justified

In order for the affirmative self-defense to be valid, you must have a sincere and objectively reasonable belief that the self-defense, or physical force you use, is justified. In other words, not only must you truly believe that your life or physical safety is in danger, but also that an average person in your shoes would feel the same way. For instance, if you sincerely believed that a 6 year-old child wielding what was obviously a toy gun was a threat to you and you used violence to stop the perceived attack, a self-defense defense would not be available to you because an average person would realize a true threat did not exist.

Accordingly, if a retail employee in a store was faced with an armed robbery attempt by armed robbers with weapons, the use of physical force in self-defense could be justifiable. However, if a teenage pickpocket stole a t-shirt from a clothing store, a retail employee could not allege that she or he used physical force justifiably.

Defense of the Premises

Is the defense of the premises or the defense of property ever justifiable? In certain circumstances, the defense of premises or property may be justified.

Under Connecticut law (CT Gen Stat § 53a-20), a person who is in possession or control of the premises is justified in using reasonable physical force on another individual when they reasonably believe this to be necessary to prevent the commission of a criminal trespass. However, the law limits the use of deadly force, and makes clear that deadly force is only appropriate in situations where a person is in fear of serious bodily injury or death, or in situations where such physical force is necessary to prevent arson or any violent crime about to be committed on the premises, or an unlawful entry by force into that person’s home.

Accordingly, a retail employee may be able to use a certain amount of force—but not deadly force—to prevent a shopper from vandalizing the premises.  For example an employee would be justified in taking a can of spray paint from someone putting graffiti on the store front, but could not use deadly force to stop the vandalism.  On the other hand, if the employee saw the vandal trying light the building on fire, Connecticut law would justify the use of deadly force to stop the arsonist.

Defense of Property

Connecticut law also permits the use of reasonable physical force in defense of property in certain cases. Under Connecticut law, (CT Gen Stat § 53a-21), a person may be justified in using reasonable physical force on another individual when they reasonably believe this to be necessary to prevent an attempt to commit larceny or criminal mischief (i.e. vandalism) involving property, or when they reasonably believe this to be necessary to regain property which they believe to have been acquired by larceny.

For a retail employee, the key question is what level of force would a reasonable person consider to be necessary to prevent shoplifting or another type of threat?  Physical restraint of a shoplifter might be justified, but rendering the shoplifter unconscious by using a chokehold would likely not be justified.

Contact a Connecticut Criminal Defense Attorney for More Information about Assault Defense for Retail Workers

Self-defense is a highly factual defense which requires extensive investigation to present the defense in a trial. An experienced New Haven criminal defense attorney can help. Contact Duffy Law online today or call us at (203) 946-2000 for more information.

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