Notes From DEA Law of Deadly Force Class

A public-spirited reader sent me his notes from the portion of DEA training dealing with the use of deadly force. He tells me that the students would be given certain fact patterns and told to stand up in class and respond with the exact phrases described in the notes to justify a shooting.





1.      Points what appears to be a gun in your direction

2.      Shoots at you

3.      Reaches for waist

4.      Raises what appears to be a gun in your direction

5.      Turns towards you with what appears to be a gun in his hand

6.      Comes at you with what appears to be a gun

7.      Reaches for a gun

8.      Runs for what appears to be a gun nearby

9.      Reaches for a pocket large enough to conceal a gun

10.  Grabs for your gun

11.  Reaches into a coat

12.  Reaches for his ankle

13.  Reaches under a seat

14.  Reaches into an area not yet cleared, that could conceal a gun

**To shoot at someone to stop an attack, the Officer MUST wait until the suspect makes  a “Hostile Move” (you should see or hear some objective sign)  that gives you P/C to believe an attack is about to occur.

**If you approach a suspect on foot, identify yourself as DEA with your gun visible in hand.  Give a command; if suspect violates the command, courts have upheld that it is justified to shoot to stop the attack.  The 14 items listed above give you (1) P/C he intends to attack (2) P/C he is armed with a gun (3) P/C that you are in “immediate danger”


1.      Accelerates at you, as if to hit you

2.      Hits you hard

3.      Drags you alongside

4.      Knocks you onto the hood and keeps going

**Must approach vehicle on foot and ID yourself with your gun visible and give a command.


1.      Bends down towards the floor

a.       If you approach on foot with gun visible, ID yourself, and give a command, if the suspect ignores you and bends towards the floor, you have the right to shoot.  You need NOT wait to see what he may be reaching for.

2.      Dives low into the vehicle

·         If you approach on foot with gun visible, ID yourself, and tell the suspect to step out of the vehicle, he complies, but then in violation of your commands, turns back towards the open door and reaches or dives down towards the floor of the vehicle, you have the right to begin shooting IMMEDIATELY in self defense (due to the perception and reaction times).

3.      Turns toward you with a gun in hand

·         If you have probable cause to believe an occupant of a vehicle has a gun in hand AND, in violation of your commands, he begins to turn towards you, you may shoot.  You need not wait to confirm that he has a gun, nor do you need to wait until he is fully facing you.


·        Deadly force may NOT be used SOLELY to prevent the escape of a fleeing suspect

·         Firearms may NOT be fired SOLELY to disable a moving vehicle

·         Warning shots are NOT permitted outside of the prison context


·         P/C that the subject intends to attack

·         P/C that the subject has the power to cause death or serious personal injury

·         P/C that there is imminent danger

·         You first give verbal warnings if safe and feasible to do so

·         You balance the risks of hitting others


1.      Perception time – Time it takes from what we see to the time our brains begin to process what we are seeing to our brain so that we are aware of it. The time we are effectively “blind” to what we are seeing (Use .25 sec. average)

2.      Reaction time – Once we recognize we are about to be shot, our muscles do NOT begin to move instantly.  They remain frozen for a  fraction of a second (Use .25 sec. average)

3.      Firing times – time it takes to actually draw your gun, bring it up to the target, bring your finger to the trigger and pull the trigger.  Could be 1-2 seconds in addition to perception and reaction times.

Immediate vs. Imminent Dangers

·         An immediate danger requires an immediate response – i.e. Being shot at

·         An imminent danger slightly broader than immediate – i.e. Shooter stops shooting at you and runs.  This is an imminent danger.

**All immediate dangers fall under imminent dangers, but not always vice versa**

Suspect will not show his hands

·         With gun visible, ID yourself.  Order suspect to show his hands.  If he does not, you may assume he has a gun.  This does not give you justification to shoot him, but it does give you P/C to believe he is armed.

21 Foot Rule

·         When an attacker with a weapon (i.e. Knife) is 21′ away from you, you may argue suspect poses an imminent danger assuming they may attack you.  It may also apply at greater distances, but you must articulate the suspect poses a danger to you at the greater distances.


0 responses to “Notes From DEA Law of Deadly Force Class”

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. This is potentially life saving information for anyone facing a law enforcement officer.

    Accordingly, I’ve reposted the entire thing over at my place.

    I’ve also made some additional [layman’s understanding] notes aimed at those who might find themselves using deadly force in personal self-defense.

    In particular, I think these are excellent guidelines for anyone having to decide whether or not to shoot (taking into account that lay citizens should not, as a rule, be deliberately putting themselves into these kinds of situations).

    They are also excellent guidelines for what you should say when you report the incident, as you most certainly must.

    Thanks again, and if my comments are dangerously misguided, I’d certainly appreciate being corrected.

  2. One of the comments above raises question about using some of these guidelines for ordinary citizens. I WOULD STRONGLY ADVISE NOT TO EVEN CONSIDER THAT. These are guidelines derived from caselaw that involve Officer involved shootings and those elements in no way (for the most part) apply to the public. Also, keep in mind that with DEA, drug sales tend to deal with the most violent people around and therefore, the DEA has a little more latitude than most other agencies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.