Judge hitting gavel close up of hand

What Exactly Is An Imminent Threat?


In order to discuss the definition of an imminent threat – we have to discuss the legal framework in which it is poised.  There are plenty of occasions where the use of force is authorized to a point.  Some states have “Stand Your Ground” clauses which dictate that a person is under no duty to retreat from a perceived or real imminent threat.  This means, legally, you’re allowed to plant your feet and fight.

But WAIT!  There’s more to this than meets the eye.

When these sorts of encounters occur, they will be thoroughly investigated much more critically by your county’s District Attorney.  If the District Attorney believes you operated negligently, you will be charged for that specific crime and you will have to defend yourself in court.  If the crime (or crimes) are deemed to be severe enough, the state’s Attorney General’s office may step in.

And even if no criminal charges are brought up – civil charges are still an option.

The suspect who allegedly attacked you or clearly communicated intent to do bodily harm, if he survives, will likely have the opportunity to press civil charges should he feel you violated his rights.  The suspect’s next-of-kin also have the ability to file civil charges.  Sounds insane, right?  It does happen.

Case In Point:  A woman shot her husband to death on March 1st after a purportedly “ferocious spat”.  She has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing but the children of the father are pressing multiple civil charges against her.

Let’s Define Some Classifications Of Imminent Threat

  • Fear of Imminent Bodily Injury

A man is approaching you saying, “I’m going to kill you.”  He has communicated a threat of severe bodily injury.  If your state acknowledges “Stand Your Ground”, that is considered an imminent threat and you’re allowed to defend yourself accordingly.

NOTE: Not all states have “Stand Your Ground” laws in their books.  New Mexico, for instance, does not.  It can be argued in court – but that’s a costly legal battle that will consume a lot of time and money.

There are a lot of gray, fuzzy areas inbetween.  For instance, what if a man begins to approach you and you fear he may assault you.  Does that mean you’re allowed to defend yourself?  Yes.  But the way you go about it needs to smart.  If a man is approaching you on an intercept course and you have reasonable fear or suspicion he means bodily harm to you, verbally advise him to stop and state his reason for approaching you.  Keep the distance between you and him until his intentions can be made clear.  Verbally illustrate at every step in this process.

In example, “I will interpret your advance as intention to do severe bodily injury and react in kind.”

You’ve just let this guy know that he can stop now or face the consequences.  If he doesn’t stop, maintain distance.  Do not draw your firearm until you have every intention of using it — otherwise it’s considered brandishing.  If you do decide to draw your firearm, you may advise the person he has the option of sitting down and waiting for police to arrive.

  • Extreme Danger (also “Clear And Present Danger”)

Bullets are being fired in your direction.  Rocks and incendiary cocktails are being thrown at your house.  You are physically unable to escape a violent situation developing around you.  These are all examples of extreme danger.

Extreme danger can apply to situations where your life is already in clear jeopardy.  If you’re unable to escape this scenario, you are allowed to use lethal force to protect yourself.

  • Danger Invites Rescue Doctrine (or simply – Rescue Doctrine, Peril Invites Rescue, etc.)

This means you’re voluntarily placing yourself in harm’s way for the clear benefit of another.  Specifically, you are preventing the serious injury or death of another by inserting yourself into the situation.  For instance, if you saw five military-aged males rounding the corner with bats, chains, and guns pursuing a woman who was fleeing – that could be construed as Danger Invites Rescue.  And if you inserted yourself into this position, you would have then inherited that imminent peril.

Congratulations!  This one guarantees you’ll make an appearance before the judge.

When this happens, you are likely to have a day in court but your attorney will hopefully argue that you were not contributorily negligent in the eyes of the law due to your duty to care for another party.

This becomes increasingly relevant if you were intervening in the assault on a family member or relative.  It becomes increasingly thin when you step in to intervene for a stranger.   Not all states (read: judges, courts, prosecutors) will immediately acknowledge Danger Invites Rescue doctrine but this doctrine HAS been acknowledged in U.S. court cases.

Is it an imminent threat?  Yes.  It can be classified as one.  Inserting yourself into another person’s conflict is extremely foolhardy but let’s just be honest – we’re people who make decisions based upon our own individual morality and ethics.  These natural laws originate from a concept of free will and self-determinism that have shaped the very fabric of both our laws and our society.  No one can require you to step in to intervene on behalf of another and it is the firm recommendation of Concealed Nation that you never do that.  Of those who have, some have been criminally charged with negligent behavior and quite a few sit in prison cells.  This is an unfortunate fact of life and inherent to the costs of successfully defending yourself in a “pay to play” court of law.

That said, if you are a free man or woman whom accepts all your actions will have consequences and if you are firm in your willingness to accept those consequences – may the grace of whatever divine, benevolent god you worship look kindly upon you when you face the judge.  And you will, if you survive, face the judge.

In conclusion, check with your state’s specific definitions of what constitutes an imminent threat.  Also check their stance on “Stand Your Ground”.  Having that knowledge in your mind will enable you to more accurately judge your decisions and hopefully avoid you any unnecessary trips to the DA’s office or county jail.

Disclaimer: The above are opinions of the author. In any situation dealing with self-defense, it is your responsibility to understand the laws in your area, and what you can and cannot legally do. It is also your responsibility to use your best judgement, given the situation that you may find yourself in. In no way should this information be viewed as legal advice. When in doubt, consult a lawyer for any clarification that you may require. Simply put, use your best judgement and always abide by the law.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General, News
About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • Thomas

    “No one can require you to step in to intervene on behalf of another and it is the firm recommendation of Concealed Nation that you never do that.”

    If it was your mother, or brother, or anyone you cared about – including yourself – would you want me to come to your aid? This trend of not rendering aid is common in articles on your site. Yet everything that is decent about being a human being says we should help those in need – Our Lord said it, military guys make it the highest order of duty for their brothers, police do it – what is your objection? Are you a lawyer and just speaking from that viewpoint?

  • Jesse Beaumont

    Fortunately, SC has immunity from civil suits for castle doctrine and SYG defense.