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Justification Defenses: Defensive Display of a Firearm

Posted on February 10, 2021 in

What Are Justification Defenses?

A “justification defense” is a defense wherein a defendant admits to engaging in conduct that would ordinarily constitute a crime, but under the circumstances, can argue that their conduct was legally justified. Today we will look at one of the most common justifications: the “Defensive Display of a Firearm”. Other common justification defenses in Arizona are:

  • Self-Defense
  • Defense of Others
  • Defense of a Premises
  • Crime Prevention
  • Duress
  • Necessity

If you face a criminal charge, you should always work with a criminal defense lawyer to fight it. This is especially necessary if you believe that you were ultimately justified in committing an act that would otherwise constitute a crime. The Phoenix weapons charges attorneys Stone Rose Law are well versed in the use of justification defenses and, if relevant, can present them for you. To discuss all your possible defense options and develop a customized strategy for your case, we offer a free consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers.  To schedule, you can contact Stone Rose Law today by submitting an online form here or call (480) 498-8998. We serve clients all throughout Arizona.

Affirmative Defenses; justification; burden of proof

Justification defenses were historically known as affirmative defenses, which meant that the defendant had the burden of proving that his conduct was legally justified. However, in Arizona, the legislature has modified the traditional scheme so that once a defendant presents evidence to support a justification defense, the State must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the conduct constituting an offense occurred, and that it was not justified.

A.R.S. § 13-421 Justification: Defensive Display of a Firearm

Under A.R.S. § 13-421, the circumstances under which a person can display a firearm in self-defense are found. This allows for the defensive display of a firearm by a person against another when and to the extent a reasonable person would believe that physical force is immediately necessary to protect oneself against the use or attempted use of unlawful physical force or deadly physical force. The statute defines “defensive display of a firearm” as including:

  • Verbally informing another person that you possess a firearm;
  • Exposing or displaying a firearm in a manner that a reasonable person would understand was meant to protect the person against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful physical force or deadly force;
  • Placing the person’s hand on a firearm while the firearm is contained in a pocket, purse or other means of containment or transport.

Understanding Arizona’s “Defensive Display of a Firearm” Statute

The most striking feature of Arizona’s “Defensive Display of a Firearm” statute is the fact that it allows a person to display a firearm in self-defense any time a reasonable person would believe that non-deadly physical force was immediately necessary to protect against another’s use of unlawful physical force rather than deadly force. Thus, the  statute allows a person to display a firearm defensively in situations where they are facing a  non-deadly threat. However, it is crucial to note that a person cannot actually use a firearm in self-defense unless it is reasonably necessary to repel another’s unlawful use of deadly force.

In essence, a person can bluff with their firearm in the face of another’s use or attempted use of physical force but cannot actually use it unless the other person escalates the encounter to the point where they are now using or threatening to use unlawful deadly physical force. But in this case, a practical problem is created. What is a person to do if they display their weapon in the face of a non-deadly threat that continues despite the display but fails to escalate to the point of becoming a potentially deadly threat? The answer to this conundrum is not found in Arizona’s statutes. Thus, common sense would dictate that a person does not display a firearm unless they are faced with a situation where they would be justified in using it.

While displaying a firearm in less serious situations might be allowable under A.R.S. § 13-421, the gun owner runs the risk of the other person calling his bluff. At this point, he has escalated the situation while simultaneously reducing his tactical options.

Situations That Defensive Display is Justified

Although Arizona’s “Defensive Display of a Firearm” statute is problematic in terms of practical effect, it provides a viable defense in various situations. Perhaps its most significant utility comes in cases where a person finds themselves facing a threat, they cannot possibly handle with physical force alone. Examples would be a diminutive person facing a large and aggressive person in a road rage incident, or a lone person facing a threat posed by a large group of aggressors. In these types of situations, the “Defensive Display of a Firearm” statute gives an overmatched individual the ability to demonstrate lethal capability, and a chance to dissuade someone posing a threat from making good on it.

Situations That Defensive Display Justification Defense Cannot Be Applied

While the “Defensive Display of a Firearm” statute has broad application, the justification defense it offers is not available in all situations. For instance, it is not available to someone who intentionally provoked the other person to use or attempt to use unlawful physical force against them. Similarly, it is not available to someone who uses a firearm during the commission of a serious or violent offense. It is also important to note that it only provides a viable defense when someone defensively displays a firearm, as opposed to a different type of weapon. Thus, if someone displays a knife during an altercation where they felt threatened by another’s use or attempted use of non-deadly force, they will likely face prosecution for Aggravated Assault even though their use of a firearm under the same circumstances could have been justified by A.R.S. § 13-421.

Free Consultation with a Weapons Crime Lawyer

If you have been forced to display a firearm in the face of a threat, whether deadly or not, you may be able to show that your conduct was justified by A.R.S. § 13-421. To do that you need an experienced trial attorney to assist you as early in the investigation as possible. Call Stone Rose Law now for a free consultation at (480) 498-8998. Our experienced team of attorneys and staff can help demonstrate that your display of a firearm was justified.