George McFly & the Defense of Others in Back to the Future

Hey you, get your damn hands off her.

I think you got the wrong car McFly.

No Biff, you leave her alone.

Lisa_ThinkMcFlyThinkGeorge McFly knocking out Biff Tannen during the rescue of Lorraine Baines is one of the most memorable scenes in Back to the Future.

George represented the quintessential wimp who found his backbone against his tormentor when the girl of his destiny was in danger.

DeLoreans and gigawatts aside, it is time to go where Doc Brown never traveled to: inside a courtroom at the Courthouse.

Was George McFly in the legal right to knock out Biff Tannen? Could Biff press charges because George was the aggressor for throwing a punch at Biff? Did George violate California Penal Code section 242 by committing battery on Biff?

The answer is No.

Moreover, Biff should be tried as an adult and go to prison.

Make Like a Tree & Go to Jail

George McFly has an extremely powerful legal defense against Biff Tannen: George saved Lorraine Baines from Biff committing sexual battery on her.

George interrupted Biff’s sexual battery of Lorraine (if not outright attempted rape). A Court would find under California law that 1) Biff intended to cause a harmful contact with Lorraine’s body that resulted in sexually offensive contact; 2) that Lorraine did not consent to the touching; and 3) that Lorraine was harmed by Biff’s conduct. California Jury Instructions 1306 Sexual Battery–Essential Factual Elements.

The facts clearly show Biff was caught committing sexual battery on Lorraine. Biff had his hand up Lorraine’s skirt to engage in inappropriate touching. Lorraine did not consent to the touching, as evidence from her physically resisting Biff and asking George for help; and Lorraine was harmed by Biff, again evidence by the struggle in the car.

All of these facts show Biff Tannen was engaged in criminal conduct causing actual harm Lorraine Baines.

BTTF_2395_1The Power of Love (And the Defense of Others)

The law does not require anyone to rescue another. There are no hue and cry laws in the United States compelling anyone to take action when a crime is in progress.

If George McFly was either prosecuted or sued for being the aggressor in the attack on Biff Tannen, his attorney would effectively be able to argue George acted in the defense of Lorraine Baines. The “defense of others” defense is part of the concept of self-defense, which dates back to 1872 and the passage of California Civil Code § 50. The Code states:

Any necessary force may be used to protect from wrongful injury the person or property of oneself, or of a wife, husband, child, parent, or other relative, or member of one’s family, or of a ward, servant, master, or guest.

As a preliminary matter, would the defense of others apply to George and Lorraine? Yes, even though they were only classmates and not yet married in 1955. The jury instructions and case law do not require a family relationship. For example, in the 1986 case of People v. Kirk, 192 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 15, (Cal. App. Dep’t Super. Ct. 1986), a man who thought a woman was being raped in a car was entitled to argue he acted in defense of others for drawing a gun on the possible rapist to allow the woman to get away.

To prove George acted in the defense of Lorraine, George must prove that he 1) reasonably believed that Lorraine was in imminent danger of being touched unlawfully; 2) George reasonably believed that the immediate use of force was necessary to defend against that danger; and 3) George only used the amount of force that was reasonably necessary to protect Lorraine and himself. 2-3400 CALCRIM 3470.

George witnessed Biff engaged in the act of committing sexual battery on Lorraine. George could reasonably believe that Lorraine was in danger based on what he witnessed and Lorraine specifically requesting help.

The physical altercation between Biff and George was immediately after George told Biff to “leave her alone.” While Biff did tower over George, it was George who threw the first [failed] punch.

The situation slightly shifts from defense of Lorraine to self-defense as Biff started twisting George’s arm around his back. Lorraine’s action of jumping upon Biff and hitting him would also be in the defense of others defense, because Lorraine was attempting to rescue her rescuer. The shifting fight does not degrade into mutual combat, because of the timing from George’s first demand on Biff to not harm Lorraine to the final punch.

George’s knock out blow to Biff would squarely fall under the defense of others jury instructions, because the entire encounter centered on protecting Lorraine from Biff’s battery. While there were times when George was the one in danger, this was all because he was trying to save Lorraine. The entire sequence of events must be viewed as one event, which all relates back to George acting in defense of Lorraine from Biff.

George only used the force necessary to stop Biff, as evidenced by George taking Lorraine to the safety of the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance after knocking out Biff. This would meet the final requirement of the jury instructions.

The police should have been called by the school and Biff arrested. However, the amount of time it would have taken for George and Lorraine to give their witness statements would have precluded them from going to the dance, having their first kiss and falling in love. This would have caused Marty McFly to cease to exist, which possibly would have caused a universe ending paradox because of his involvement in the events leading up to George knocking out Biff.

The Flux Capacitor of Justice

Back to the Future is perhaps the only family comedy that involves a character being rescued from sexual battery. It is almost like viewers recognize the extreme wrong that is happening, but our only acknowledgement of it is wanting George to save Lorraine.

The severity of Biff’s criminal conduct truly makes George’s actions all the more important. George did not turn and run. He recognized the look of terror on Lorraine’s face and stopped Biff from doing more harm.

Flux_2060There is no question George McFly did the right thing in knocking out Biff.

The character’s actions were not just morally right, but no judge or jury would let Biff prevail in a case against George McFly.

That being said, it is very odd that the George & Lorraine McFly ever employed Biff to work on the family’s cars.

One would expect Biff to have a lifetime restraining order to stay away from the McFlys.

However, there is a special justice to a bully’s life reduced to waxing cars.