Volume 56

Self-Defense Without Imminence

by Fritz Alhoff

The doctrine of self-defense allows that otherwise criminal force can be justified so long as the actor reasonably believes its use necessary to protect against imminent and unlawful attack. Supposing that the force is necessary to dispel the attack, why the further requirement that the attack is imminent? The restriction precludes the use of force which, ex hypothesi, is the only way that the actor could defend himself. This Article surveys and critiques the rationale for the imminence requirement, arguing that it should be jettisoned in favor of a more expansive conception of self-defense. While the focus is on domestic law, the paper concludes by gesturing towards implications for international law as well, particularly with regards to preventive war (i.e., war against non-imminent threats).

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