Imminent Danger: Legal Definition & Examples

Instructor: Millicent Kelly

Millicent has been teaching at the university level since 2004. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and a Master's degree in Human Resources.

Imminent danger is a legal term that is frequently used in law enforcement and judicial matters. This lesson will provide the legal definition for imminent danger, discuss imminent danger, and the right to use force.


Imagine that you are kidnapped at gunpoint and being held as a hostage while police attempt to negotiate with your kidnapper. At a certain point, your kidnapper puts down his gun within your reach. As he speaks to hostage negotiators you grab the gun, shoot the kidnapper, and flee to safety. Would this be an appropriate response to the situation you found yourself in?

Imminent Danger

Imminent danger is a legal term that is used to describe situations that pose a direct and immediate danger to the individual affected by the action. If you find yourself in the situation described above, you are clearly in imminent danger because you are being held at gunpoint and theoretically could be harmed or killed at any time. The law considers three different types of imminent danger. These include:

  1. Imminent danger of being hurt or injured as a direct threat - for example, when someone tells you they are going to shoot you.
  2. Imminent danger of being affected by the malicious and intentional actions of another, even though not necessarily directed towards you - for example, someone opens fire onto shoppers at a crowded mall.
  3. Imminent danger in response to trying to protect another individual - for example, offering yourself up as a hostage to a gunman to spare someone else.

Imminent Danger and Stand Your Ground Laws

Several states have adopted what are known as stand your ground laws. These laws provide individuals with the right to defend themselves in situations where they find themselves to be in imminent danger. In states that have stand your ground laws, someone who is in imminent danger does not need to make an attempt to distance themselves from that danger. Instead, they can use force, including deadly force, to neutralize the threat and keep them safe from harm. These laws have been criticized by some as encouraging vigilante justice, while others applaud them for providing the opportunity for people to defend themselves.

Stand Your Ground - An Example

Emma is a stay-at-home mom who lives with her family in an upscale neighborhood. After taking her children to school, Emma returns home to complete her daily chores. She notices that the front door is slightly ajar, but assumes it was her mistake since she was in a rush to get her kids to school. She enters the home, puts her purse in the kitchen, and walks into the living room to turn on the morning news. She is startled to interrupt two individuals in black clothing and masks who are burglarizing her home.

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