News reports of evil clowns lurking around populated areas late at night have many scratching their heads. What motivates people to dress up in creepy clown costumes and cause havoc? Pranking may be the main motivation, but these "jokes" are not always harmless. Reckless hoaxing does come with serious risks. Confrontations between pranksters in clown guises and frightened people can turn out ugly. In fact the West Virginia police department even issued a warning to "would-be clowns" about the dangerous potential of running into a concealed carry holder. Those willing to use a weapon for self-defense -- be it a firearm, knife, or blunt object -- must realize merely being scared by someone dressed as a clown does not automatically authorize deadly force. Understanding the law could keep the intended victim of the prank out of serious legal trouble.
Laws, Self-Defense, and Levels of Force
The laws regarding deadly force are going to vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Certain states may have "Stand Your Ground" laws in place, and others may require a "Duty to Retreat". Both of these laws are predicated on dealing with an actual threat. No one has a right to use deadly force or any form of self-defense simply because someone scared them, but did not attempt to an actual attack. The mere sight of a clown doing nothing other than trying to "creep people out" won't justify taking any physical action. A level of force on the part of the perpetrator is required to justify self-defense. Even then the appropriate force response may not be excessive.
There are reports, however, of clowns brandishing weapons and chasing people. A clown's use of a deadly weapon could create the potential for loss of life. Responding with appropriate force may be justified depending on the circumstances. Again, the circumstances refer to the actions taken by a perpetrator and not how he/she is dressed up.
Two very helpful bits of advice are worth noting here:
Never Threaten Action Online
Social media is abuzz with people noting how they will react when they see a clown. Some have even gone so far as to threaten violence at the mere sight of a clown - a very bad idea. Online statements could be used as evidence in a court of law and might undermine a self-defense claim.
Retreat When Possible
Panic at the sight of a clown is definitely understandable, but consider it best to simply retreat the scene as quickly and carefully as possible. Contacting law enforcement by dialing 911 is also suggested. Turning the situation to those trained to deal with such matters could avoid any number of legal problems.
Those who have found themselves in a highly-bizarre situation involving a clown hoaxer and have been charged should seek legal representation. Despite the strange and horror movie-like nature of the situation, the legal woes one faces are serious and real. For more information about the legality of issues like this, contact a firm like Begley Carlin & Mandio LLP.