If you’ve decided to carry a firearm, you’ve undoubtedly thought about the reality of having to use it to defend yourself. You’ve thought about how you need to train, what kind of ammunition best fits your defensive needs and which holster will best fit your gun, body type and preferred method of carry. There’s more to armed self-defense than just these things though.
Once the threat to your life ends, the most difficult part of the process is often just beginning. There’s a lot that happens following a self-defense shooting. Most people don’t realize these are not just possibilities but hard realities. Read on to find out how the USCCA can support and help guide you through the often confusing aftermath of a self-defense incident.
#1 — You Will Be Detained and Possibly Arrested
If you are forced to defend yourself with a firearm, the police will have to get involved. You need to dial 911 immediately and tell the dispatcher your location. Explain that someone has been shot and that you need an ambulance. Describe to them what you look like and what you’re wearing. Apart from that, simply repeat that you were in fear for your life and that someone has been shot.
Officers will arrive at the scene of the shooting, but before they do anything else, they will need to immediately ascertain who presents a deadly threat to innocent life. They will evaluate everyone at the scene, principally you, as you’re the one whose description they got over the radio. If you haven’t already done so, they will order you to drop your firearm. And you will likely be placed in handcuffs. Though you will not necessarily be under arrest, you will be taken into police custody until they can sort out exactly what happened. Until they do this, they can’t proceed with anything else.
It is mandatory that you comply with all of their physical demands. Before they arrive, you need to reholster your firearm or place it on the ground. It can be extremely dangerous to be the one holding a gun when the police arrive at the scene of a shooting. Be sure you aren’t.
Remind yourself that you are not being handcuffed because you did anything wrong. You are being handcuffed because the officers need to be sure no one at the scene is going to start shooting again. It is extremely important that you not resist them or try to fight back.
Remember: You haven’t done anything wrong. You were in fear for your life or the lives of others. You were forced to employ deadly force to defend said innocent life.
#2 — The Gun Used to Defend Innocent Life Will Be Seized and Held as Evidence
The officers will be responding to either a “shots fired” call or a shooting that occurred during a homicide. Do not let the word “homicide” panic you. “Homicide” just means that one person was responsible for the death of another person — nothing more and nothing less. In all likelihood, the police will be taking your gun as evidence in the investigation of this shooting or homicide. Again, do not let the word “evidence” rattle you. As long as you acted in self-defense and were in fear for the loss of innocent life, you will be able to work with an attorney to vindicate your actions.
Your gun, however, will be in police custody longer than you will. Nazir Al-Mujaahid, the first concealed carry permit holder in Wisconsin to use his sidearm in a defensive situation, waited almost two years to recover his pistol from evidence. This was even though no charges were ever filed against him. State law enforcement agencies understand after relinquishing custody of that gun, the chances of getting it back will be very low. They will hang on to it as long as possible on the off-chance it will need to be assessed again.
#3 — You Will Be Interrogated at the Scene and the Station
Responding law enforcement officers will ask you a lot of questions. They will demand to know what happened that led to you shooting another person. They will demand to know if you are alone. And they will demand to know what led up to you discharging your firearm.
Though it can be extremely tempting to tell them everything that comes to mind, you have to be very careful. Those officers will interact with you as they interact with everyone put in handcuffs: as a suspect. They will be trying to get you to say as much as possible before you invoke your right to remain silent. Never forget that the Fifth Amendment was not included in our Constitution to defend guilty people. It was included to protect innocent people.
Responding officers will be trying to get you to cut loose with what are called excited utterances. These exclamations are made before an individual has been apprised of his or her right to remain silent. These statements are admissible in court. As you will likely be extremely excited and upset in the wake of a shooting, it is imperative you limit your statements. Wait until you have had time to calm yourself and consult with an attorney.
Defend Your Right to Recover
When an officer is forced to shoot in the line of duty, he or she is removed from the scene, assessed by EMS and kept from outside contact. This provides him or her an opportunity to relax and collect his or her thoughts. That’s how officers avoid saying or doing anything that could further complicate an already complex situation. You should demand the same treatment. If you feel lightheaded or otherwise over-excited (and you will), tell them that you do not feel well and need medical attention. This will require them to contact EMS for you, and questioning will cease. Use this window of time to calm yourself. Make sure you are physically unharmed and ensure you don’t make any unfortunate errors that could later cost you.
#4 — You Will Need to Hire an Attorney to Defend You … and Fast
We’ve all heard Americans have “the right to an attorney” when questioned. How to get hold of one, however, can be confusing and difficult without a little forethought.
What that specifically means — “You have the right to have an attorney present during questioning” — is after you are placed under arrest, officers are not allowed to ask you any more questions unless you consent. However, they will ask you as many questions as they can before they actually place you under arrest. This is what they are trained to do. They understand that after you have been arrested and “Mirandized” (apprised of your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination), any information from you without a lawyer present will likely be ruled inadmissible in court.
If you are forced to defend yourself, you will need to answer questions about the particulars of what happened. This will be necessary to prove that you were “in the right” — i.e., not acting outside of the law. To do so will often involve you being either taken into custody or outright arrested. The officers on the scene of the shooting need to know what happened. If all you say is, “I’m not talking without a lawyer,” they are going to have to arrest you in order to get you into a position in which you will answer their questions. After you are arrested, you will be searched for weapons and brought to an interview room. This is the point at which they will allow you to contact an attorney.
To do so, you will have one of three options: You can open a phone book and blindly choose a name, you can contact your personal lawyer or you can call the USCCA Critical Response Team to get the ball rolling.
#5 — You May Have to Post Bail or Pay Bond
Depending on the particulars of your situation, you may actually be arrested and taken to a city or county jail. If this is the case, and you are not accustomed to being treated like a criminal, you’re going to be in for a very unpleasant experience.
Once arrested, you will likely be given the option to post bail. This is either a quantity of cash or other security that the law enforcement agency will hold. It acts as insurance that you will return for a court hearing. This will depend on your specific situation, but posting bail can be very difficult for the average individual. Self-defense shootings seem to happen after bankers’ hours. And few people keep thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash on hand. Your options are to call a bail bonds company (if they are legal in your area), call a family member who can try to arrange the collection of the necessary funds or contact the USCCA, who will handle the situation from there.
To get the full 6 Things You Didn’t Know Would Happen When the Police Arrive downloadable guide with high-quality imagery, click here.
#6 — The DA Will Gather Police Reports to Make a Charging Decision
After the officers have asked all of their questions, they will compile their notes into official reports and decide if there is evidence of a crime. If they believe you have committed a crime, they’ll send their reports to the District Attorney. The reports, along with a DA referral form, mean the officers believe there is enough evidence a crime was committed. This is not a rapid process.
It may take days to a week or more for all officers involved in an incident to complete their reports. This is not out of laziness or carelessness. Depending on where the incident occurred, it may be only one of a dozen calls officers handled that day. For reports to be as accurate as possible, police will have to quickly turn field notes into a narrative form. A narrative that will help someone who was not at the scene understand exactly what happened in the clearest possible language.
Once they’re done with the immediate situation involving you, they have to get back onto the streets and get back to their job as cops, deputies or troopers. Their field notes may sit in their squad cars until they can write their reports. Once reports are complete, they may sit in a basket in the station or the District Attorney’s office for anywhere from hours to days. Remember: This is before anyone has even started to decide whether you will actually be charged with a crime. The key is to make sure that you are at home during this process, not sitting in a jail cell.
Protecting Yourself for What Comes ‘After’ You Defend
Here’s something you must accept right now: In the aftermath of a self-defense shooting — even a justified one — you WILL encounter all six of these harsh realities. As unfair as it may seem, keep in mind that such realities are standard procedure following any shooting.
It is imperative that you spend time now thinking about and preparing for what comes after a deadly force encounter. After all, the difference between going to jail and going home will likely be determined by your ability to navigate the rough terrain that inevitably follows a self-defense incident. And the truth is, proving your innocence without a plan will be costly — both mentally and financially.
The good news is that you won’t have to bear that weight alone. The USCCA exists to guide and support responsibly armed Americans just like you through the scary and overwhelming aftermath of a self-defense incident so you can get back home to your family where you belong. From 24/7 emergency assistance via the Critical Response Team to an up-front attorney retainer, the USCCA will get the ball rolling. And we’ll stick with you every step of the way.