YOU’VE TRAINED FOR THIS DAY. The crossroads of danger and preparation have intersected, and you’ve ended the life of someone who threatened yourself, your family or your home. After the shooting stops and the smoke clears, there is a lifeless or injured body lying in front of you. In a split second, you saved a life — your own, your family’s or someone in grave danger. Guess what? You’re not out of danger yet. This is where the most uncomfortable limbo starts. Will you be charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree murder, reckless endangerment or a host of other criminal charges by some crusading district attorney? Or will the matter be closed as a justifiable homicide as a result of self-defense? The first 48 hours after any self-defense shooting will very likely determine whether your home is where your family is or if the state will provide you shelter in the ol’ Graybar Hotel. You’ve mentally scripted and rehearsed every angle of attack for the self-defense action you’ve taken, but have you prepared for the legal battle that could ensue?
The actions described in this article are simply non-negotiable. Stick to the script or be prepared to spend enough money to put your attorney’s children through college. There is no guarantee that the advice given in this article will keep you out of jail, but it should greatly improve your odds and force any hot-shot district attorney to consider whether it’s worth the time, money and judicial resources to attempt to get a conviction when your actions can be reasonably justified. The following steps are designed to avoid arrest, an indictment by a grand jury or, the most humiliating of all, a ruinous civil suit by the family of the lowlife perpetrator who’ll claim that you used unnecessary and deadly force to stop their kin from making you a crime statistic. Let’s work through this chronologically.
Self-Defense Shots Fired, Man Down
Your immediate actions here are some of the most important elements of any judicial action law enforcement might decide to take. According to any number of statistical sampling, the average response time for the police to appear is between 8 and 11 minutes. During this time, you need to clear your head and take some critical mental notes. First, holster your weapon when police arrive. The last thing you need is a police officer walking onto the scene, seeing you with a drawn weapon and shooting you before you have time to proclaim your innocence. Make sure you can also tell police where the perpetrator’s weapon is. The last thing you want is someone picking it up and leaving, thereby making you appear to have shot an unarmed person.
Hopefully there will be witnesses there, so someone will have called 911. You do not necessarily want a voice record of you calmly calling the police after you’ve shot someone. Emergency dispatch operators are trained to keep you on the phone and to try to extract as much information as possible. This tape will be played nationally, so don’t give a prosecutor the opportunity to tell a jury that you were cold-blooded and clear-headed after the shooting.
Make mental notes of the witnesses and their positions to the shooting and the aftermath. Create a mental grid of where people are standing. My suggestion is to look around you and pretend you’re standing on a piece of paper. Mentally divide the paper into four squares, count how many people there are in each square and try to guess how far away from you they are.
The crime scene will be scoured, and the homicide detectives will be taking statements from each witness. You want to make sure someone who was 30 feet away doesn’t swear that they heard every syllable of conversation between you and the perpetrator. You want to be able to recall if witnesses were close enough to see the shooting and, if necessary, attempt to impeach their testimony.
Don’t Touch the Crime Scene
This will only aggravate the police and make you look like a suspect, or worst of all, create grounds for arresting you for hiding evidence or tampering with the scene.
Don’t Reach for that Card in Your Wallet You Picked Up at the Gun Store that Tells You What to do if You Shoot Someone
Some people think that handing responding officers a pre-printed card with a statement is the best substitute for memorizing your rights. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Some hotshot district attorney might try to prove that this was premeditated and that you were looking for a victim. Invoke your right to have an attorney present during questioning and wait for his arrival.
Ask Someone to Call for an Ambulance
If your attacker is still alive, you want to demonstrate that you’re not a stone-cold murderer. Stay still, observe and if anyone asks you if you’re OK, tell them you think you might be in shock. Don’t have any sort of discussion with bystanders or witnesses. Don’t ask if they saw the whole thing, if they will tell the police what happened or anything else. Everything that happens after the bullet left the gun is now evidence.
When the Police Arrive, Don’t Answer Questions Without Your Criminal Defense Attorney Present
They will start asking 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 concealed weapon. Don’t consent to a search (they’re going to do it anyway), and if you’re with family members, tell them not to answer any questions until they too have spoken with an attorney. Cooperate with the police to the barest minimum — but respectfully. Tell them you need to speak to your lawyer before you make any statements. (Never, ever say, “I think I need to talk to my lawyer.” This will allow them to continue questioning you.) If an ambulance hasn’t arrived, ask for one for yourself as well as the perpetrator.
If the police inform you that you’re under arrest, politely but unequivocally decline to answer any questions without your lawyer present. You need to give your attorney and yourself time to react to the situation. Going to the hospital and being checked for shock, injury and any other possible reaction will help you clear your head and prepare for the days to come. If the police decide to lock you up, which is a probability, be mentally prepared to stay there until you’ve had a bail hearing. Don’t talk to any inmates if you can possibly avoid it; they would sell you into slavery to reduce their sentence.
Contact Your Lawyer When You’re Alone
You don’t need anyone overhearing you tell your lawyer you killed a lowlife and need representation. This is a conversation that should take place face to face without any observers. Before your meeting and at your earliest convenience, write down everything you remember.
Prepare a Statement of What Occurred as Soon as Possible
Write down every detail you can remember on paper. What words were spoken? What actions caused you to draw and shoot? How long was the confrontation? How many witnesses were there? Where were you coming from and where were you going? What were you wearing? When did you and the perpetrator draw your weapons?
All of this information is going to be pulled from other witnesses, so you need to have your story straight and logically formatted. If there is a trial, you might need to testify, so your attorney will rehearse with you multiple times to avoid an ambush.
The Morning After the Self-Defense Shoot
Killing someone in self-defense makes a great news piece. As they say in the press, “If it bleeds, it leads.” If you’re allowed to go home, you might wake up to find camera crews on your lawn, photographers looking through your windows and other gawkers wondering what happened. This is when rumors begin and the full-bore investigation gets started. Have someone in your family call the police and tell them that there are news crews trespassing on your property. If they’re on the sidewalk or the street, leave them alone.
Never speak to the media or have any family members speak to them. Even if they are in your face when you leave your house, do not answer anything no matter how much they provoke you. George Zimmerman gave an interview with Sean Hannity, and the special prosecutor used it as evidence against him.
Meet With Your Lawyer the Day After
Prepare to tell your story in painful detail. Leave out nothing. Your lawyer is sworn to secrecy, and she can’t protect you without knowing absolutely everything that happened. Your lawyer will call the police and ask for any information related to the incident, including witness statements, ballistics testing and whether there is an assistant district attorney now assigned to the investigation. Additionally, your lawyer will contact the police and ask if charges are going to be issued against you, whether a grand jury will be convened and if a list of witnesses is available. Realistically, none of this will be given out until actual charges are initiated, but proactive legal work might help avoid a trial.
Work with your attorney to find out anything and everything about the perpetrator. She will ask for discovery if you’re charged, and it will all come out, but a running start might help reinforce the reality that you were assaulted by a repeat offender.
Stay Out of Sight
This might sound difficult, but it is not impossible, and time is your friend here. I would recommend avoiding anyone for two weeks if possible. You want this to become old news replaced by the latest incident in order to prevent continued front-page coverage. Don’t talk to the media, police or anyone other than your lawyer about what happened.
Check All of Your Weapons and Firearms for Proper Storage
If the police decide to obtain a search warrant and look through your home for evidence, the last thing they need to see is a gun sitting on the kitchen table without a trigger lock on it. Get on the Internet and double check what the legal requirements are for proper storage of a firearm in your state. You don’t want a prosecutor who is unable to prove a case to use your carelessness as evidence of reckless endangerment.
Two Days After the Self-Defense Incident
Within 48 hours of the self-defense shooting, the police will have finished with the crime scene, and evidence will be collected. Toxicology reports will be started on the corpse of your attacker. If you were arrested, bail will likely be arranged by this time. If you haven’t been charged, you’ll be at home staring at the walls wondering what to do next. The police are investigating, your lawyer is probably speaking to contacts to see if you’re going to be charged or indicted and you feel as if your life is in the hands of people who don’t understand that only one person was going to walk away from the worst night of your life. Thank God it was you.
Your next move is to begin your own investigation. Any questions, requests for information, freedom of information requests, etc., cannot be seen emanating from you. Have a trusted friend, spouse or relative begin to build a case against the perpetrator. Go online and do a criminal check on him. The Internet has a host of sites where you can find criminal records. Start to put together a matrix based on your search of Facebook or any other social media site of this person’s friends and contacts. Did they post a picture of themselves on Facebook pointing a gun? Are people they associate with on the web as well?
Remember, if the district attorney is going to prosecute you, they will be doing the same to you. This effort will save you the money you would have to pay your attorney or a private investigator to research. Even if you’re charged and found innocent at trial, legal bills will grow very quickly. You can never tell what your attorney might miss, so protect your own interests. Send out freedom of information requests for lab results, the 911 message, police tapes, etc. You might not be a lawyer, but this is all information that will be critical to your defense should you need one. Share the information with your lawyer as soon as you receive it. Your goal is to get this done as soon as possible in order to begin a strong argument against indictment. Once again, don’t tell your story to anyone but your lawyer or your spouse. Neither can be forced to testify against you, but anyone else is fair game.
Stay calm, stay focused and gradually ease back into your daily routine. This will be on your mind for months, if not years, to come, but right now, you need to reinforce the narrative that you’re the victim.
Keep your head up. You trained for this day, and you successfully defended yourself. Now comes the second phase, where you need to prove it was justified.