I’ve been asked numerous times now to do a blog post about the incident in New York in which the driver of a Land Rover ran over several motorcyclists, seriously injuring at least one of them, and was then pursued and badly beaten by the riders. So, here it is . . .
(Full disclosure: I am a motorcyclist myself, riding several thousand miles a year in the saddle of a BMW R1200GS Adventure. I’m more than familiar with the great number of motorcyclists killed by careless “cagers” every year. Along with homicidal deer, careless drivers are likely the greatest threats faced by responsible riders.)
The ~5 minute video embedded below starts about 1 minute before the first serious interaction between Range Rover, driven by Alexian Lien, and the motorcyclists, and ends in the moments before Lien is physically hauled from his vehicle by multiple assailants and badly beaten. If you’re not familiar with it, you might take a moment to view at least the first and last minutes of the video, as those are the portions of relevance to this post:
At about the 0:50 second mark in the video we can see a rider wearing blue jeans and riding in the left-side of the same lane as the Range Rover apparently decelerating abruptly (assuming the camera-bearing rider is maintaining a more or less constant speed at that point). We can observe the rapidly diminishing distance between the front bumper of the Range Rover and the blue-jean rider until the moment before it is believed that the car struck the vehicle. At this point it is not believed that serious injuries had been suffered by anyone.
So far, all we have is a motor vehicle accident, and in the normal course of events absent injury or serious property damage the rider and Lien might merely have exchanged insurance information and then been on their way. Had injury resulted, police and medical assistance would have been called, with both rider and driving waiting for their arrival.
The evidence suggests, however, that the circumstances were far from normal. The question then, from a law of self-defense perspective, is whether the circumstances were such that a reasonable and prudent person in the same or similar circumstances would have been in reasonable fear of imminent death or grave bodily harm from an unlawful attack. If so, Lien would be justified in using force, even deadly force, in self-defense. (In this case the deadly force used against the purported attackers was in the form of a motor vehicle, rather than a more traditional gun or knife.)
The AOJ Triad: Evaluating Imminence
How can we assess the reasonableness of whether Lien was facing an imminent threat of death or grave bodily harm? Here, application of the AOJ Triad comes in handy.
First, did the riders possess the ABILITY to cause the Lien death or grave bodily harm? Clearly, so–event absent their helmets, which they would use as weapons in a manner more than capable of causing death or grave bodily harm, the mere disparity of numbers between the single driver and the scores of riders created more than sufficient disparity of force to meet the “ability” element of the AOJ triad.
Second, did the riders possess the OPPORTUNITY to bring their ability to bear against Lien? In this case we know that they did possess the opportunity, because they would only minutes later successfully force their way into Lien’s car and haul him physically from its protection in order to badly beat him.
Third, did the riders conduct themselves in such a manner such that a reasonable person would believe they were about to bring that “ability” and “opportunity” to bear against Lien–that is, such that a reasonable person would have perceived imminent JEOPARDY?
Here the testimony of Lien and other witnesses (including his wife in the vehicle with him), as well any video evidence, will play a crucial role. If all three elements of the AOJ triad are reasonably present, however, and Lien’s perception of a deadly imminent threat against himself, his wife, and small child was, in fact, reasonable under the circumstances, then his reasonable use of force in escaping that deadly threat was lawful, even if it resulted in the death of others.
On this point we do already have a statement issued by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly that immediately following the Lien’s impact with the first rider, the other riders (numbering in scores) launch a coordinate, deadly-force attack upon the vehicle (and, by reasonable implication, upon the occupants therein): “They [the riders] take their helmets and they start to dent his car, and apparently his tires are slashed with a knife.”
Regaining Innocence via Withdrawal from Fight
The biker’s continued use of force against the driver, however, carries no such potential legitimacy. Specifically, the biker’s would be lawfully entitled to use force against the driver only to stop an imminent threat of harm posed by the driver. Once the driver sped away, leaving the riders behind him, he no longer posed an imminent threat of any sort. Absent such an imminent threat, the rider’s had no justification for re-initiating a physical attack on the driver.
Indeed, even had the Lien’s initial reaction of driving over several of the bikers to escape an attack at the 0:50 mark been unreasonable, thereby making the Lien the aggressor and illegible to claim self-defense for that specific use of force, that conflict ended when he withdrew from the fight and effectively communicated, through his actions, his desire to cease the fight. When the bikers then chose to pursue and re-initiate the conflict they in effect began a second conflict in which only they were the aggressor. So even if Lien was the aggressor in the initial fight following the bump at the 0:50 second mark, by “regaining his innocence” through withdrawal he regained his right to use force in self-defense when the bikers became the aggressors upon his withdrawal from the first conflict.
This is particularly so when the riders launched their assault on Lien at the 5:00 mark, leading him to drive over several of the riders, seriously injuring at least one of them–at the point when the riders initiated their use of force against the him, Lien presented no imminent threat, and the riders’ use of force was retaliatory, not defensive. This is also obviously true at the very end of the video, when the riders unlawfully force their way into Lien’s video (an act that in many states creates a legal presumption that they intend to inflict death or great bodily harm up on the occupants of the vehicle, including in this case the wife and small child), and commence (beyond the end of the tape) their brutal beating of Lien.
Indeed, even had the disparity in numbers not constituted deadly force–and it certainly did–the fact that Lien needed surgery for slashes caused by a sharp-edged weapon would have constituted such deadly force. Had Lien been lawfully armed (I know, it’s New York City) he would have been justified in using a weapon in defending himself from deadly attack while he was being beaten on that city street–regardless of whether he had engaged in unjustified conduct at the start of the conflict in the conflict.
As always, self-defense cases are exquisitely fact-sensitive, and very small changes in underlying facts can result in very large changes in outcome. Also, this analysis relies on an incomplete video record and on “facts” as reported by news outlets. Caveat emptor.
Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.
In addition to the book, Andrew also conducts Law of Self Defense Seminars all around the country, with upcoming seminars scheduled for Columbia SC (10/19), Atlanta GA (11/16), and Epping NH (11/24, at the SigSauer Academy, where Andrew is a Guest Instructor). Click here for reviews of recently completed seminars in Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.