Preventive Medicine … the Legal Kind

After an individual survives a violent physical confrontation in which he or she threatened or used lethal force, that individual is often faced with a bewildering array of legal issues, some of which can be almost as traumatizing as the incident itself. As a result, it only makes sense to have an aftermath strategy in place to cover the basics.

Have a Lawyer

Even Captain Obvious would agree that having a lawyer is mandatory for anyone who legally carries a gun. (Once you find yourself “in the system,” it is vital that you have someone capable of guiding you through the legal process from beginning to end.) And not just any lawyer: You need a criminal attorney who is experienced in trying self-defense cases, including those involving the use of firearms.

True, good lawyers are expensive, but a superb criminal attorney friend of mine always warns his clients that “there is nothing more expensive than a cheap lawyer.” Think of it this way: Would you rather spend the next 20 years paying off your lawyer or sitting in prison? Besides, there are now programs like the USCCA Self-Defense SHIELD to help you deal with legal bills.

Awareness and Conflict Avoidance

Anyone who carries a firearm has probably learned the importance of practicing situational awareness and conflict avoidance. Keeping our eyes, ears and mind focused on the people and situations around us helps us recognize and avoid potential threats. I shouldn’t have to point out that focusing on a smartphone is not conducive to situational awareness.

Obviously, you must not be the aggressor (the one who provoked the incident) — that would likely torpedo your case before it begins. Conflict avoidance goes further. It means actively reducing the chance of a confrontation in the first place. You should make a commitment to never engage in things like “road rage” or arguing over silly transgressions. This takes practice — more for some people than others.

This is important because if a prosecutor can show the jury that you were an active participant in the events that led to your use of force, it can seriously damage your claim of self-defense. Conversely, if witnesses can testify that you were clearly a reluctant victim, it can support your case.

Warning: With the massive expanse of surveillance cameras and the millions of smartphone cameras, you can pretty much bet that your behavior will be recorded. What you did, even before the incident, can and will be used to influence a jury.

Silence Is Golden

At a seminar I attended many years ago, a veteran criminal prosecutor rhetorically asked the audience: “What is the single most dangerous and damaging thing a person can do in the wake of a lethal confrontation, the one act that fatally damages most cases of what would have been legitimate self-defense?”

After a moment of muttering and puzzled looks from the attendees, the attorney answered his own question: “Talking to police at the scene without having an attorney present.”

He was right. Even the most innocent-sounding statements can be devastating to your case. No matter how strongly you believe that you acted legally, a skilled prosecutor can convince a jury otherwise, using your own words against you. Talk to your attorney on precisely what to say to arriving police. Then follow his/her instructions to a T.

The legal system is perilous at best, especially in cases of self-defense. Being prepared is essential.