Self-Defense Shooting: What to Do After Pulling the Trigger

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self-defense shooting

Self-Defense Shooting – What to Do After Pulling the Trigger


Best Case Scenario – The police believe your story, send the case to the district attorney, and the district attorney’s office declines to prosecute the case.  Furthermore, the perpetrator’s family does not pursue civil action against you.

Worst Case Scenario – The police don’t believe your story, you say things to the police while in custody that work against your claim of self-defense, you get indicted by a grand jury, the best offer you get from the district attorney’s office is 8 years, you spend between $50k to $100k hiring expert witnesses and paying attorney’s fees to get your case to trial, and let’s say you’re lucky enough to get acquitted.  However, right after the criminal case, you get sued by the perpetrator’s family for $5 million for wrongful death and start the process over again with civil litigation.

  1. Stay at the Scene
    1. Unless staying is too dangerous, you should NEVER leave the scene of a self-defense shooting
    2. Many police officers, district attorneys, and potential jurors firmly believe that innocent people do not run if the shooting was in self-defense
    3. Depending on the circumstances of the shooting you are involved in (non-Castle Doctrine and crimes in which reasonableness is not implied by statute), district attorneys can argue that flight is an indication of guilt
      1. Don’t let the district attorneys argue that a reasonable person engaged in a self-defense shooting would not run, if they were not guilty
  2. Do Not Touch Anything at the Scene
    1. Evidence MUST be preserved in all self-defense shooting cases
    2. Cleaning up or moving evidence alters what the police will interpret from the scene of the shooting
    3. Worst case scenario, you can get charged with tampering with evidence and give prosecutors an argument that your actions during and after the shooting were not reasonable and indicative of guilt.
      1. Essentially, you risk being charged with two crimes
  3. Collect Your Thoughts Before Calling 911
    1. Remember, your 911 call will be the first thing that police hear about your shooting and the tape WILL be played to the jury if you are charged with a crime
      1. 911 calls by you will be considered an admission by party opponent and is admissible in court
    2. You will likely be upset after a shooting and may potentially say something unwise that could potentially be construed as an admission of guilt
    3. Take a few breaths, ensure that the threat is truly over, and attempt to organize your thoughts as much as possible before dialing 911
      1. Remember, 30 seconds of planning may save you 30 years in prison
    4. At the same time, you do not want to appear calm and calculated after the shooting
      1. District attorneys may attempt to paint you as a cold-blooded and calculating killer simply looking for a victim
  4. What Should You Say to 911
    1. Begin by telling them that you are the victim of a crime
    2. Tell them the following:
      1. Your name,
      2. The location of your emergency,
      3. That you need police and EMS,
      4. That you are ending the call because you do not feel safe
    3. What you should not say:
      1. Any specific facts relating to the shooting
      2. DO NOT say “I killed them,” “I had to kill them,” or anything like that
    4. Do NOT remain on the phone
      1. The more time you are on the phone, the more likely you are going to say something that can land you in jail
  1. Secure Your Weapon
    1. It is very unwise to be the only person holding a gun when police to respond to a self-defense shooting
    2. You could potentially get shot by responding officers depending on your emotional state after the shooting
    3. Remember, police are responding to a shooting and are expecting to be met with a dangerous situation
    4. Once you ensure the threat is neutralized, put your gun down in a safe location a few feet away from you and pointed in a safe direction away from responding police officers
    5. Don’t pull the magazine, rack the slide, or anything like that because police officers, district attorneys, and potential jurors may infer that the situation was not truly life threatening if you felt safe enough to do any of the above
    6. If the police arrive before you can secure your weapon, you will likely be held at gunpoint. So, be sure to follow their instructions and drop the weapon immediately when ordered to do so
      1. The average response time for police to appear nationally is 8 to 11 minutes
  2. Expect to Be Detained
    1. In 90% of self-defense shootings, police will detain you and likely handcuff you
    2. This is normal operational procedure for responding officers
    3. You will likely be detained for hours due to the fact that self-defense shooting investigations take a significant amount of time to secure the scene, interview witnesses, and process evidence at the scene
    4. BE POLITE to the police, but DO NOT TALK without an attorney present
  3. Talk with an Attorney Before Giving a Statement
    1. After a shooting, it’s reasonable to have the urge to talk about the events in order for you to give your side of the story
      1. This is absolutely dangerous if you are involved in self-defense shooting and questioned by the police
    2. Regardless of whether the police informed you of your Miranda rights or not, DO NOT GIVE A STATEMENT
      1. Remember, any statement you give before the police inform you of your Miranda rights are considered a voluntary statement and are very difficult to get suppressed
    3. You MUST tell the police that you invoke your right to an attorney
      1. Say “I need to speak to my lawyer before making any statements”
      2. DO NOT say “I think I need to talk to my lawyer” – police can keep questioning with this statement
    4. After that, tell them you do not wish to make a statement at this time, but will cooperate fully with the investigation after speaking with your attorney
    5. Remember, you will likely be questioned by different officers multiple times during the crime scene investigation. REMIND EACH OFFICER that you wish to speak with an attorney before giving a statement.
      1. Despite the fact that you invoke your rights to an attorney, any statement you make after invoking your rights is still considered a voluntary statement, is not protected, and likely will be used against you
    6. If the police allow you to speak to your attorney over the phone, expect for them to be recording what you are saying to your attorney
      1. Give your attorney the bare minimum, say you either need them there at the scene or schedule an appointment immediately for the next day
      2. DO NOT give any details to your attorney while in the presence of the police – Attorney/Client privilege does not extend to statements uttered in the presence of law enforcement
  4. Do Not Give the Police a Card with Pre-Printed Rights
    1. Some people (and gun shops) believe that handing responding police officers a pre-printed card with a statement of your rights in a self-defense shooting scenario and your wish to invoke your right to counsel is a good idea
    2. This is NOT a good idea
    3. Some district attorneys will try to argue that the attack was premeditated and due to the fact that you had rehearsed or printed material with your enumerated rights, you were a cold-blooded, calculating killer simply looking for a victim
      1. This is a common way to argue against you were acting reasonable in specifically enumerated crimes and the Castle Doctrine
  5. Be Prepared for the Police to Be Aggressive
    1. Don’t be surprised if every responding officer treats you like a criminal
    2. You can expect to be yelled at, handcuffed, forced to the ground, put in the back of a patrol vehicle, interrogated at the scene and at the police station, and possibly jailed
    3. You can expect the police to ask you a battery of questions including how many times you fired, what the other person was doing to provoke your reaction, and if you are licensed to carry a weapon
      1. The police have a job to do and this is how most departments respond to a shooting call
    4. Cooperate with the police to the bare minimum
    5. Do not resist and argue with the police
    6. Beyond basic questions about your name, address, and tell the police you want to speak with an attorney
      1. Be sure to tell family members who are witnesses or who live in the same home to convey the same information to police officers when questioned
    7. Remember, the more you say, the more likely you will end up with a criminal charge
  6. Always be Polite and Don’t Lecture the Police
    1. Always use “sir” and “ma’am” sincerely
    2. Remember, you WILL be recorded
      1. Body cameras, vehicle cameras, in-car cameras
    3. Being polite goes a long way to proving cooperation, especially to a jury
    4. Refrain from lecturing the police about your Constitutional, state-based rights, and your justifications for deeming the incident a self-defense shooting scenario
      1. This is another way that district attorneys will attempt to argue that you are an opportunistic killer looking for a victim
    5. Don’t argue with the police, even if you know something they are say is blatantly false or incorrect
      1. Officers may use deception and other emotionally charged statements to induce you to talk. Do not fall for this.  Simply repeat that you must speak with your attorney before giving a statement.
  7. Do Not Consent to a Search of Your Residence, Property, or Person
    1. The police will have the authority to search the scene of the self-defense shooting anyway
      1. Plain View doctrine also applies, so ensure that you do not have any other weapons in sight of the crime scene when the police arrive
    2. What you need to protect against is a search of your firearms collection
      1. A district attorney may try to argue that the size of your firearms collection is indicative of an unstable individual that was simply looking for a victim
    3. Remember, if you have family members that live in the same home with you, tell them to NOT consent to any searches
      1. 4th Amendment cases indicate that any family member living in a home can effectively consent to a search
  8. The Morning After – Dealing with the Media
    1. If there is a self-defense shooting, it WILL be on the news
    2. If you are allowed to go home, you will likely wake up the next morning to camera crews, photographers, and other gawkers
    3. If they are on your property, have someone in your family call the police and tell them there are news crews trespassing on your property
    4. If they are on the sidewalk or the street, leave them alone
    5. Under no circumstances should you make a statement to the media
  9. Prepare a Statement of What Occurred
    1. Write down EVERY detail you remember on paper
      1. What words were spoken?
      2. What actions by the perpetrator caused you to draw and shoot?
      3. Did you give verbal warnings before discharging your weapon? (always a good idea)
      4. How long was the confrontation?
      5. How many witnesses were there?
      6. Were any cameras recording the confrontation?
      7. Where were you coming from and where were you going?
      8. Were you legally permitted to be at the location where the shooting occurred?
      9. What were you wearing?
      10. When did you and the perpetrator draw your weapons?
  1. Meet with Your Lawyer the Next Day
    1. Prepare to tell your story in painful detail
    2. Be sure to prepare a statement before going to your meeting with your attorney
    3. Attorney/Client privilege protects communications between you and your attorney WITH NO OBSERVERS
    4. Your attorney cannot help you without knowing EVERY detail of what occurred
    5. Work with your attorney to find out anything and everything regarding your perpetrator
      1. A running start in defending your case might help if you and your attorney can show that the perpetrator who attacked you was a repeat offender
  2. Stay Out of Sight
    1. Avoid contact with anyone outside your immediate family for at least 2 weeks
      1. Don’t go to any social gatherings or bars
      2. Don’t go on social media and tell your side of the story
        1. Investigators will almost certainly search your social media accounts to ascertain who you generally talk to also
      3. Don’t tell extended family members or friends about your side of the story in the event that the police attempt to question them
    2. Basically, don’t give the police, media, or other parties a reason to start interviewing your larger group of friends and family regarding the shooting
  1. Prepare for a Subsequent Search Warrant
    1. Most likely, the police will obtain a search warrant for your home if they believe that charges are necessary
    2. The last thing you want is a gun sitting on the kitchen table with a round in the chamber
    3. Secure all of your weapons and put them in your gun safe
      1. Store your weapons with safeties engaged and store your ammo in a separate container
      2. In general, do not have your weapons loaded in your safe
    4. If you don’t have a gun safe, unload your weapons, put trigger locks on your weapons, and safely store the guns and ammo out of the reach of children
    5. You don’t want a district attorney who is unable to prove your case using your careless handling and storage of weapons as evidence of reckless endangerment

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