At the same time that the governor and mayor have released safety plans for New York City subways focusing on homelessness, subway attacks continue. Hours after the mayor announced a new safety plan, six people were attacked in subway-related incidents.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen the now notorious case of the human feces attacker on February 21 to the hammer attack of a woman several days later.
While it appears the uptick in subway violence is random, it does highlight the need for addressing not only crime but the systemic issues that fuel it, especially when it affects the thousands of New Yorkers who travel the subway system each day.
Can You Defend Yourself If You Are the Victim of a Random Attack?
If you are the victim of a random attack in a public place, your first concern is how you can defend yourself and your belongings.
Self-defense rights are what give individuals the right to protect themselves and others from assault or other violent crimes by using force. These rights extend to the protection of others as well as, in some circumstances, to property. New York Penal Law, Article 35 specifies the circumstances under which an individual can lawfully use physical force and even deadly force to defend themselves in the case of a physical attack.
A Question of Reasonableness
In self-defense, there is always the question of reasonableness., however.
An individual is only justified in using physical or deadly force as self-defense when, and to the extent, they reasonably believe that this force is necessary. While a victim may be making split-second decisions in these cases, should the incident become a criminal matter, the court will be taking a very close look at whether the victim’s belief that they would be harmed and the extent of the possible harm was reasonable.
How is What is “Reasonable” Determined?
In the case of self-defense, how is “reasonable” determined when individuals are all very different with very unique fears and ways of coming at a situation? In fact, this very question was answered in a landmark case involving a subway incident.
In People v. Goetz, a subway passenger named Bernard Goetz was riding the same subway car as a group of four men, two of which, unbeknownst to Goetz, were armed with screwdrivers. One of the men approached Goetz and asked for five dollars. Mr. Goetz pulled out an illegal handgun and shot at the men. He was later indicted for multiple offenses, including four counts of attempted murder.
The New York Court of Appeals Took a Closer Look
During the course of the case, the New York Court of Appeals realized that it had to deeply analyze what reasonability meant as it was specified in Article 35.
The Court of Appeals found that although the standard was what a “reasonable” person would believe given the same situation, it would need to be understood in the context of the victim’s prior experiences, in addition to all other factors such as whether there were others around or the relative size of the attackers.
Consequently, self-defense cases can be subjective as they call for understanding the unique perception of the victim and no one can truly know what another is thinking or feeling.
What If You Are Afraid in a Certain Situation?
Today, it is critical to keep vigilant of your surroundings as you travel about the city.
If you are in immediate danger in New York City, call 911. If possible, stay calm and be alert to surroundings, taking mental notes of what is going on, where you are, and who is perpetrating any concerning behavior, noting physical appearance, clothing, and whether there is a weapon involved. If you have been a victim, do not destroy any evidence, including any clothing or anything that may have fingerprints or other identifying evidence on them.
While you may be tempted to arm yourself given the level of violence today, it’s important to understand self-defense laws should you ever have to protect yourself. Unfortunately, without a thorough understanding of the law, you may find yourself facing criminal charges yourself.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense that stems from an act of self-defense, you will want to get the guidance of a New York criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.