We all know real life isn’t like the movies. The stakes are higher, and the consequences much more severe.

Do you REALLY know what to do after a self-defense shooting?

A woman in a gray hoodie and blue and white striped shirt holds her left hand forward, palm out, as if to ward off an attacker. She has a pistol held close to her body in her right hand and her mouth is open as if shouting verbal commands. The setting is the front porch of a residence, near a window.

Don’t put off preparing until it’s too late.

You’ve ended the life of someone who threatened you, your family or your home. After the shooting stops and the smoke clears, there is a lifeless body lying in front of you…

In a split second, you saved lives — but you also took one…

So now what? Will you be charged with involuntary manslaughter? Second-degree murder? Reckless endangerment? The list of criminal charges that could be brought against you is a long one…

Even though it was your house and your family … this is where you’re at now.

A white male in a blue plaid shirt and denim jeans has his wrists cuffed with silver metal handcuffs behind his back.

Even though you’re the victim, you CAN be arrested.

The first 48 hours after any self-defense shooting will very likely determine whether you get to stay home or go to jail.

The attack on you and your loved ones is over, but the legal battle has just begun.

So what do you do? The RIGHT answer might surprise you…

Shots Fired, Man Down

The average response time for the police to appear is between 8 and 11 minutes. During this time, your actions and decisions are some of the most important moves you’ll make in your life. So don’t get them wrong….

As long as there is no longer a threat to your safety, start by holstering your weapon to show any arriving police that YOU are not a threat.

Red and blue police emergency lights illuminate asphalt which bears the chalk outline of a shooting victim. Evidence placard tents mark where spent cases lie on the pavement.

It’s crucial that you know what steps to take after a self-defense incident.

Take a mental note of the crime scene. This includes the placement of the attacker’s weapon, so you can prove that you were, in fact, threatened.

Speak Carefully

If you can, ask someone else to call 911. Ideally, you do NOT want a voice recording of you during such a high-stress and high-stakes time. 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 in your case. So don’t give a prosecutor the opportunity to use any aspect of your demeanor against you.

A white male prisoner in an orange prison jumpsuit with his hand cuffed behind his back stands before a white female attorney and an African-American male judge behind his bench.

How you act and what you say during your 911 call can have a significant impact on your case.

Seek Medical Care

Similar to contacting 911, ask a bystander to call an ambulance, if necessary, for you or for your attacker. It might seem counterintuitive. But you’ll want to demonstrate that you care about human life, even if you had to take one in self-defense.

Don’t discuss what happened with bystanders (or even witnesses). If people ask you if you’re OK, tell them you might be in shock.

These precautions might seem extreme, but remember: Everything that happens after the bullet left the gun is now evidence. 

DON’T Touch the Crime Scene

Touch absolutely nothing. You are NOT required by law to lend medical aid to your attacker. And you can actually be penalized for “tampering” with the crime scene. It’s going to be awkward, but standing away from the scene is the best thing you can do.

While waiting for emergency services to arrive, make a mental grid of your surrounding areas and the placement of each person in them. The crime scene will be scoured by the homicide detectives. They will be taking statements from each witness.

Dramatically lit photo of a white woman in a white winter parka, kneeling beside the front bumper and driver-side wheel of an SUV. Her face shows great concern and perhaps surprise.

It is vital that you take a mental picture of everything at the crime scene.

You want to make sure someone who was 30 feet away doesn’t swear that he or she 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.

The Police Arrive…

You can relax now, right? Unfortunately, not quite. It is the job of every good police officer to question anyone involved in a self-defense incident. You will be asked a battery of questions, such as:

  • How many times did you fire?
  • What was the other person doing to provoke your reaction?
  • Are you are licensed to carry a concealed weapon?

Cooperate with the police as minimally but as respectfully as you can. Don’t consent to a search (they will perform one anyway). If you’re with family members, tell them not to answer any questions until they too have spoken with an attorney.

You may then be arrested. If the police inform you that you’re under arrest, politely but firmly decline to answer any questions without your lawyer present. You need to give yourself and your attorney time to react to the situation. Be mentally prepared to stay incarcerated until you’ve had a bail hearing. Remember, silence is golden in this situation. Resist the urge to talk to any inmates about the incident.

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Legalese … So What CAN You Say?

Some people think that handing responding officers a pre-printed card with a statement is the best substitute for memorizing their rights. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

A district attorney might use your action to 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 keep quiet until his or her arrival.

Contact your lawyer when you’re alone.

You don’t need anyone overhearing you telling your lawyer you killed someone and need representation.


Before meeting with your lawyer and at your earliest convenience, write down everything you remember.

This might be a painful process, but you HAVE to prepare a statement of what occurred as soon as possible. This should include:

  • 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?
  • 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 facts straight. If there is a trial, you may need to testify. Your attorney will use this information to rehearse with you multiple times to avoid an ambush.

Close-up photo of reporters holding microphones in a group during a press briefing.

There is a good chance your case may garner media attention.

The Morning After the Self-Defense Shooting

As they say in the press, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Killing someone, even though it was in self-defense, makes a great news piece.

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 starts…

Have someone in your family call the police to tell them that there are news crews trespassing on your property. If crews are 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.

The Day After: Meeting With Your Lawyer

Prepare to tell your story in painful detail. Leave nothing out. Your lawyer is sworn to secrecy. He or 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
  • If an assistant district attorney is assigned to the investigation
  • If charges will be issued against you
  • Whether a grand jury will be convened
  • 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 you avoid a trial.

Work with your attorney to find out everything you can about the perpetrator. Eventually, 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

You should avoid anyone for two weeks if possible. This might sound difficult, but time is your friend here. You want this to become old news, replaced by the latest incident in order to prevent continued front-page coverage.

Again, 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 online to see what the legal requirements are for proper storage of a firearm in your state. You don’t want a prosecutor to use your carelessness as evidence of reckless endangerment.

Two Days After the Incident

You can expect the 48 hours following a self-defense shooting to go something like this:

  • The police will have finished with the crime scene.
  • Evidence will have been collected.
  • Toxicology reports will be started on your attacker’s corpse.
  • If you were arrested, bail will likely be arranged by this time.
  • If you haven’t been charged, you should be at home staying out of sight.
  • The police will be investigating.
  • Your lawyer will likely be speaking to contacts to see if you’re going to be charged or indicted.
  • You will likely 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 or requests for information 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. Use social media to put together a matrix of this person’s friends and contacts. Did he post a picture of himself on Facebook pointing a gun? What are the people he associates with like?

Your trusted helper should send out freedom of information requests for lab results, the 911 message, police tapes, etc. You never know what your attorney might miss, so protect your own interests. This information will be critical to your defense should you need one. Remember, if the district attorney is going to prosecute you, he or she will be doing the same. This effort will save you the money you would have to pay your attorney or a private investigator to research the attacker.

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. 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.

A man wearing a small pistol i an OWB holster squats down to hug his young son and a lab puppy. The setting is a front yard near a flower garden.

Keep a level head during this time. Try not to let your case negatively affect your life.

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 against bodily harm. Now comes the second phase, where you need to prove it was justified.

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