Is it possible that you could be so quick in your reaction to a perceived attack that you counterattack before the potential attacker has even moved? It has happened.
In the 1970s, Rock Springs, Wyoming had a national reputation as being a wide-open Wild West town, so the town hired a former range detective, Edward Lee "Ed" Cantrell, as the new Director of Public Safety, and convened a special grand jury to look into the allegations. Cantrell hired Michael "Mike" Rosa, a Puerto Rican undercover agent from New York, to make undercover visits to the various saloons in town.
How undercover Rosa was a matter of question. He was disliked by his fellow police officers and there were allegations that he had been paying off informants with drugs from the evidence room. Rosa openly bragged that he was going to "bring down" Ed Cantrell in his forthcoming testimony before the grand jury.
In 1978, Ed Cantrell decided to talk with Rosa. Cantrell and two other officers pulled up in a car outside a lounge on Elk Street and Rosa came out wearing a holstered gun and carrying a glass of wine. Rosa got into the backseat of the car; Cantrell was in the passenger front seat. At some point in their conversation, Rosa called Cantrell an “MFer” and arched back as if he was going for his gun; his hands were allegedly free, the glass of wine held between his legs. A shot rang out, and Rosa laid dead in the backseat, a bullet wound from Cantrell's gun between Rosa's eyes. Rosa's gun was still holstered, his hands around the wine glass.
Ed Cantrell was charged with first-degree murder and the case drew national media attention. Cantrell's initial lawyer, Robert E. Pfister, brought in the now legendary, Gerry Spence, for the defense. An overwhelming problem for the defense was how Cantrell, who was seated in the front seat, could get his weapon out of his holster, and shoot Rosa if Rosa were going for his gun. Even Spence, in his book Gunning for Justice, confessed that he initially believed that Cantrell was an "assassin."
Trial lawyers frequently save their best witness for last and will occasionally make a "show" of it. Juries remember best what they heard first, and they heard last. As his last witness, Spence called a former border patrolman, National Rifle Association shooter, and author of the book No Second Place Winner, Bill Jordan.
Spence received permission for a courtroom demonstration and gave Jordan a holstered gun loaded with blank rounds. A young deputy was given a cocked gun loaded with blank rounds and was told to point the gun at Jordan and if Jordan made any move towards his gun to pull the trigger. All the deputy had to do was pull the trigger.
Suddenly, a shot rang out. The deputy stood chagrined, with his weapon still unfired. Jordan testified that the normal human reaction time is 0.50 of a second, but he had trained himself to draw and fire in 0.27 of a second, nearly half the time for someone else merely to recognize that an opponent is going for his gun.
Jordan testified that he knew Cantrell and that they had been shooting together. Spence asked Jordan “You are certainly fast on the draw. What about Sheriff Cantrell?" Jordan answered, "Ed? Well, I reckon he's a mite bit faster'n me." The jury found Ed Cantrell not guilty.
Under Wyoming law, as it is in most states, it is not necessary that Rosa was actually going for his gun, only that Cantrell reasonably believed that he was. Thus, even if Rosa were merely going for his wine glass, if Cantrell reasonably believed that Rosa was going for his gun, Cantrell was not guilty.
As noted by the Wyoming Supreme Court in Hernandez v. State, 976 P. 2d 672 (Wyo. 1999): The right of self-defense exists whether the threatened danger is real or apparent and that it is not necessary for the danger to be real or impending and immediate before self-defense is justified as long as the defendant reasonably believes it is.
Even though Cantrell was found not guilty, this is not always the case in situations such as this. It is possible to be so fast in your defensive actions that you become the attacker. Sometimes it may be a fine line between you being the victim and you being the attacker.
For it to be a self-defense situation, the law requires you to believe you are in imminent danger before you may act in self-defense. This does not mean you have to wait until the attacker attacks you, but if you react so quickly that witnesses say you attacked before the other person had made any movement, you may be found guilty of a crime.