Case of the Week : Self-Defense Claim Lost When Defender Becomes Aggressor

Jeffrey Sumpter, 21 years old
Jeffrey Sumpter, 21 years old

USA – -( This week’s case is a recent criminal trial sentencing out of Connecticut that purportedly involves principles of “Stand-Your-Ground,” but that in reality, of course, has nothing to do with “Stand-Your-Ground” at all.

Three-on-One Attack Ends With Defender Convicted

The Defendant, in this case, was Jeffrey Sumpter, 21 years old, who was working his job at a Dunkin Donuts coffee shop when he was assaulted by three attackers (or “juveniles,” as the media labels this gang of aggressors). Sumpter ended up stabbing one of the attackers in claimed self-defense. He was charged with felony first-degree assault, found guilty, and just days ago was sentenced to 18 months in jail and three years probation. (All as reported per the CTPost, and other sources.)

Why Not Acquitted on Basis of Self-Defense?

A reasonable argument could be made that Sumpter’s use of deadly defensive force was warranted, given the 3-to-1 ratio of attackers to defenders, and it was uncontested that the three “juveniles” initiated the attack against him, not the other way around. So how did Sumpter end up convicted of felony assault, rather than acquitted on the basis of self-defense?

The headline used by the media suggests one possibility: “Victim of Norwalk assault gets 18 months for not retreating” (emphasis added). And, as usual, the media gets it wrong.

Was Failure to Retreat the Defect?

As a quick refresher, there are five elements to a claim of self-defense—innocence, imminence, proportionality, avoidance, and reasonableness—and the issue of retreat falls under the element of Avoidance. Avoidance has to do with whether there’s a legal duty to retreat, if safely possible, before using force in self-defense.

The large majority of states, about 36, are Stand-Your-Ground states that do not impose the element of Avoidance absent aggravating circumstances, and in those states, there is no legal duty to retreat before defending oneself.

It’s true that Connecticut, where these events took place, is one of the few 14 or so remaining “duty-to-retreat” states So, was the problem with Sumpter’s claim of self-defense that he had a safe avenue of retreat, but failed to take advantage of it before he stabbed one of his attackers? That’s certainly what the headline “Victim of assault gets 18 months for not retreating” would suggest, right?

Well, as you might have guessed, the answer is “no,” the failure of Sumpter’s claim of self-defense had nothing to do with him failing to take advantage of a safe avenue of retreat, and thus nothing to do with the element of Avoidance.

Self-Defense Fails If Defender Becomes Aggressor

The failure of Sumpter’s claim of self-defense is found in the element of Innocence. How can that be, you might ask, given that it’s uncontested that the three aggressors attacked HIM. Because, as the media itself reports: “After being assaulted inside the coffee shop, Sumpter ran outside and stabbed one of the men.”

That is a problem. In the eyes of the law what we have here is not a single fight in which Sumpter defended himself against the attack of the three aggressors. That fight did happen, but it also ended, when the aggressors left the coffee shop.

When Sumpter then pursued them and stabbed them, he became the aggressor in a second fight. As the aggressor in this second fight, he lost the element of innocence, and thus lost self-defense as a justification for his stabbing one of the aggressors.

Self-Defense, Yes; Vengeance, No

The law of self-defense allows for the use of defensive force to resist an imminent unlawful use of force against you. It does not allow you to engage in acts of retribution or vengeance.

Remember folks: When you go to the fight instead of the fight coming to you, it very rarely looks like self-defense to anybody.

“Racist” Stand-Your-Ground Not So Racist

By the way, just as an aside, “Stand-your-Ground” (SYG) has widely characterized by social justice warriors and the media (but I repeat myself) as “racist,” especially after the George Zimmerman trial, and efforts to have the few remaining duty to retreat states join the stand-your-ground majority of states is vigorously fought against on those grounds.

Had this case hinged on this defendant’s failure to retreat, however, then SYG could have saved his claim of self-defense. And as it happens, this defendant is a young black male. Thus SYG could have saved a young black male from prison. SYG is racist? I think not—I think it favors everyone with a valid claim of self-defense, regardless of race or any other personal characteristic. That’s why I’m an advocate for SYG.

–Attorney Andrew F. Branca, Law of Self Defense LLC

Learn more about self-defense law from Attorney Andrew F. Branca and Law of Self Defense LLC by visiting the Law of Self Defense Patreon page for both free and paid-access content, and by viewing his free weekly Law of Self Defense Show.

Learn more about CCW Safe, LLC at http://CCWSafe.Com

CCW SafeAbout CCW Safe, LLC:

Founded by former police officers and attorneys who have all worked on local, and federal levels of law enforcement, CCW Safe, LLC offers legal service membership plans for concealed-carry permit/license holders and law enforcement officers. Two of the founders, Mike Darter and Stan Campbell, have spent more than 20 years each in law enforcement and have been a victim of federal lawsuits themselves from shooting and use of force incidents as police officers.  General Counsel, Kyle Sweet, is a former police officer and current owner of Sweet Law Firm, representing hospitals and health care professional across the United States.  With a strong membership base in 50 states, CCW Safe will have the most experienced attorneys in the jurisdiction of the incident handle members’ cases. Learn more on how to become a member at CCWSafe.Com.

  • 18 thoughts on “Case of the Week : Self-Defense Claim Lost When Defender Becomes Aggressor

    1. I’m sorry… I’m calling it what it is, if that man was white and attacked by 3 black men/boys and he followed them home he wouldn’t be charged. FURTHERMORE after the fight he regrouped and stabbed 1 it would be ZERO charges no probation ZERO… they were still there, they started it. Black white Mexican whatever races they got what they deserved. I don’t condone violence but I do believe in standing up for yourself and protecting yourself by all means necessary… thats not right at alllllllllllllllll…

    2. Couple points that hasn’t made into any of the articles. While he shouldn’t have been convicted of the assault, being able to flee should mean that you can do so with guaranteed safety, and with tree assailants, that makes little sense, that wasn’t the only charge. He was also charged with a Felony Carrying a Dangerous Weapon ( a knife with a blade longer than 3″ I assume ), and a Felony Failure to Appear in March of 2017. Not showing up probably hurt.

      So while he was guilty of two other crimes, he didn’t appear to have any other history, and should’ve just received a suspended sentence at worst.

      1. He did have a right and a responsibility to defend and protect himself against an attack, but that right does not extend to follow-up retaliation after the attack is over. Your thinking is not that of legal, logical, sensible, sane or wise reaction to physical attack; it refers more to retailation for an attack already in the past. After the three assailants left the coffee shop, they no longer presented a threat to the initially assailed, and when he followed them outside to continue the confrontation, he became the assailant. The right to self defense and protection then went to them.

        It’s not so important for all to know that you’re not afraid, but it is all important for you to know to leave the dog alone after he walks away.

    3. During my career as a Correctional Officer I often talked to a lot of the inmates as a way of passing time and also getting information from them. I had an older one tell me he was locked up for murder. He was involved in a fight with another individual. The other man used a baseball bat to beat him up. He left the altercation to go home and get a shotgun. He went back to find the other man and when he found him he shot and killed him. He said that the judge told him that he should have stayed home and not went back looking for the other man. That was the reasoning behind the prison sentence. Kind of a bad situation to be placed in. Hard to say what I would do if somebody beat me with a baseball bat. I guess it comes down to weighing the pluses and minuses. The decisions we make in life can difficult.

    4. After initially reading this article I would say that there no real racist over tones but in the world we live in today a better is question would be after reading this is “Would this have happened to the defendant if he was white?” I believe in the right to bare arms and in self preservation but also understood the physiology of the body’s response to “fight or flight”. In his inability to flight he became the aggressor and went on the attack AFTER being attacked. This reaction is something that can not be turned off like a switch and should have been taken into more consideration. I know that the law is the law but does it work the same for everyone? Nice article!

      1. I was thinking the same thing Doc. It would be hard to be attacked & just because the attackers left, be all mellow-yellow about it. Adrenaline is pumping & not being psychic, I doubt the young man knew if they were coming back or felt safe to just let it go. Retaliation in this case, should have been looked at deeper (as you suggested) & just as an animal that may normally run from danger (if possible), may attack to make sure the threat is gone. It’s hard to judge if it wasn’t you (generally speaking) in the situation. Three against one doesn’t create a secure feeling.

        1. The facts here remain that the law is the law and all are required to abide by the law. We are allowed to protect ourselves against attack, but we are not legally allowed to retaliate for revenge. Once the initial attack is over and the attacker(s) is/are in retreat, the initially attacked becomes the aggressor if he follows his attackers with the intent of continuing the altercation.

          Don’t chase the bear when he’s running away; there are bound to be repercussions.

          1. @ExGob, there is no such thing an an initial attack. The perp’s actions are all one common course of conduct. That retreat is not a retreat. It is a maneuver, and the threat has not gone away.
            Your mischaracterization of a maneuver as a “retreat” presumes that you know what he is doing. It is not possible to know his intentions. Thus the attacker, bear or man, is still the threat that you only sought to stop.
            “The facts here remain that the law is the law…” What law school did you go to?

            1. in your first sentence you state ” there is no such thing an an attack. Here I have to assume you meant “as an attack.” Then you state it’s not a retreat, it’s a maneuver and it’s not possible to know anyone’s intentions, yet you know it’s a maneuver and not retreat, and the threat is still there even though the three have exited the building and are no longer attempting to assault the lone victim. So when the three leave, he walks off his job, follows them outside, whips out his knife and lays the blade to at least one of the three, now, victims. You might think they were still the aggressors, but the judge, evidently felt differently about it, as do I.

              My law school? The same kind that taught the judge in this case that when the victim becomes the aggressor, the same laws apply to him as applied to his aggressors when he was the victim. While there have been those who got away with revengeful acts of violence, our system of justice makes no provisions for “homefree” acts of revenge.

              I am an eighty years old retired United States Navy veteran. I believe in our rights to protect ourselves, I believe in equality and in equal justice under the law, and I believe in The United States Of America.

            2. Oldmarine >>> Wild Bill
              I look at this from a different prospective more on the primal level. I see this as an attack much as any combative situation. In combat if you are attacked you try to defend yourself and if you get the upper hand then you try to eliminate the aggressor. I see the law taking an very wrong opinion in such cases. If the judge was put int he same situation he may have taken a different course of action. If attacked you have the moral as well as a natural action to eliminate the attacker. I really don’t think that the law really covers all situations and that many judges are unqualified by not experiencing the situations. I have found that there are at least FOUR correct solutions to any situation and that ALL of them are correct to some degree. I always lean to the natural solution more than the others. When attacked though you have to make instantaneous decisions and natural reaction should be considered and any evaluation regardless of the law. >>> Oldmarine

            3. @ex gob, I disagree that the attack was over when the three attackers turned around and walked out. The defender just should have hurried that is all. No one could know if the three unsuccessful attackers were done or just getting better arms. How foolish to wait and see if they attack you with better weapons.
              The eastern states, Connecticut, and this judge have a long legal history of distaste for self defense. What we used to call the Eastern Rule of the Law of Self Defense required the defender retreat to the wall. The Western Rule required and still requires no retreat at all. And the majority of states are going that way.
              I would think that an eighty-year old would have a more circumspect view of an attack by three teenagers. You go ahead and do as little as you like, but don’t try to force your untutored view on others.
              It is exactly that train of thought that was the basis of my retiring to Texas.

            4. @Oldmarine, Yeah, I am more primal about it to. The defender should have stayed in immediate contact and finished it so that there would have been no question of one common course of conduct. Speed, surprise and violence of action.

    Leave a Comment 18 Comments