People own guns for a variety of reasons.
Many have inherited firearms from family members, and give little or no thought to their utility. These guns are keepsakes, providing warm memories of their father, grandfather, or beloved uncle. Others own guns for hunting. Still others primarily own guns for sporting purposes, and do not routinely carry a gun for self-defense, but yet may have loaded guns at home. And gun owners such as myself and most of the readership of this magazine own and carry guns routinely for self-protection.
For the last 20 years, I have been the owner and director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. During this time, my company has trained over 10,000 armed citizens…
Legal Implications of Self-Defense
Unfortunately, most pistol packers have not truly thought out the legal implications, nor have they received training in the legalities of use of self-defense. For example, my home state of Washington was one of the first “shall issue” states in the country. According to www.learnaboutguns.com, the state currently has over 258,000 citizens who possess valid concealed carry licenses.
But in the last 20 years, the largest firearms school in the state has trained only about 10,000 folks. I would estimate the other training companies, gun clubs and other sources of firearms training may bring that total up to 50,000, although I feel that number may be optimistic. That leaves a whole bunch of people – the majority – untrained and likely unprepared to face the legal aftermath of a self-defense shooting. Helping educate these people and others across the country is my purpose in writing this series of articles.
By way of introduction, I have worked in the firearms training field for 28 years, first as a police firearms instructor, then as an instructor for a popular indoor gun range in the Seattle area. For the last 20 years, I have been the owner and director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc. During this time, my company has trained over 10,000 armed citizens, and I personally have worked as an expert witness in over a dozen firearms related murder, manslaughter and assault cases.
I recently completed my Juris Doctor degree, and am now eligible to take the bar, although I have put that endeavor off to form a second business, the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, LLC (see “One Call” by KL Jamison, CCM Aug/Sept ‘08). The words I write here come from the perspective of an expert witness, trainer, law school graduate and former police officer. They are not intended to be self-serving, and I hope they are not taken as such. It is also not legal advice.
It is only after you have either convinced the prosecutor that your act was legitimate self-defense (before trial, charges dropped), or after you have convinced the jury at trial, that will you be found to have acted in self-defense.
Responsibilities of Carrying a Gun for Self-Defense
When a person decides to carry a gun for protection, he takes on the same type of responsibility as when he decides to drive a car on the public streets of America. There is one big difference, though. Most people have insurance to cover their culpability if they injure others in an “at fault” traffic accident, and the insurance company provides their legal defense. But there is no insurance available to protect someone who has wrongfully injured or killed another by the purposeful use of firearms. Sure, we can get insurance to cover negligence when it comes to the use of guns, but not to protect us from a criminal conviction for our purposeful act of shooting in self-defense.
Legal Implications of Using Your Gun
If you use a gun for self defense, you have set into motion a complex set of legal actions which you might never recover from financially. A person who is the shooter in a self-defense homicide is presumed guilty until they prove their innocence. I know, a person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, and the judge will explain this to the jury at deliberation time.
Lots and Lots of Money
But until trial, the criminal justice system overwhelmingly takes the position that a person who kills another is the suspect in a murder, and that the person who died is the victim of that murder. What led up to the death is many times up for debate, and if you are going to be on the winning side of that debate, you will need to spend some money. LOTS OF MONEY.
You Have Met the Elements of Murder
Before we discuss how much money may be required, let me clarify why this is so. In American law, the elements of the crime of murder include “intentionally killing another human being.” So, unless you accidently, negligently or recklessly killed another, you have met the basic elements of the crime of murder.
Your intentional act of pulling the trigger will put you in jail in most jurisdictions, especially if that intentional act happened in public, instead of at home. It is only after you have either convinced the prosecutor that your act was legitimate self-defense (before trial, charges dropped), or after you have convinced the jury at trial, that will you be found to have acted in self-defense.
Proving You Acted in Self-Defense
What does it take to prove your act was an act of self-defense? First off, you do not want a public defender. While there may be some exceptions, for the most part, public defender offices are woefully underfunded. The attorneys are likely new attorneys, and your case will probably be his or her first murder defense. There will be little or no money to hire experts to prove your side. In rural jurisdictions, the public defender will be drawn from a “public defender pool” and will likely be given a meager, lump sum fee to handle your murder trial.
In addition to attorney’s fees, you will need to pay a private investigator to investigate for you.
He is expected to get you to plea bargain to a lesser charge, and avoid trial. If you will not take a plea bargain (and most armed citizens who shoot in self-defense will strongly resist this), you go to trial. You will face a government entity that has all the money it needs to convict you, if they have set the crosshairs on you. So, the bottom line is, avoid the public defender. He is likely to get you sent to prison.
Private Defense Attorneys
A private defense attorney will charge you a hefty retainer to even initiate a defense, as much as $50,000 or more, depending on what he believes he will need to spend to defend you. The money is usually paid up front, because once an attorney becomes the attorney of record, he likely cannot be dismissed from the case just because you ran out of money to pay him. He is in it for the long haul. If you don’t have the money, some form of collateral will be established, like titles to your cars, your gun collection, expensive jewelry, or even your equity in your house.
In addition to attorney’s fees, you will need to pay a private investigator to investigate for you. You see, the investigation the police do is intended to convict people of crimes, not to exonerate them. You need your own investigator to help prove your innocence. Figure on $5,000 for this.
You will also likely need experts, and perhaps lots of them. When facing the possibility of a life in prison vs. being free, you want to stack the deck in your favor. Perhaps a psychological expert might be necessary, to look at any relevant psychological issues such as the mindset of the defendant or the mindset of the shooting victim.
Crime scene recreationists will also likely be needed if the actions of the individuals are in dispute (which they usually are). If witness statements differ, then you’ll need experts to explain the how and why of witness dynamics. Sometimes even the armed citizen makes comments that appear to be out of synch with other witness statements or with the physical evidence. This needs to be explained.
Independent Forensic Pathologists
Lastly, there are the grand daddies of all expert witnesses, the independent forensic pathologists. The likely fees for the other witnesses and experts range from $100 to $250 per hour, but forensic pathologists (the experts with the M.D. behind their names) are getting $500 per hour or more, depending on how good they are.
And, you want a good one, don’t you? One who is not subject to impeachment on the stand? There is nothing that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory more quickly than an impeached expert witness. Each of these people will also require a separate retainer to go against their expert witness fees. During the pre-trial phase, your attorney will be asking you for money for each of these guys or gals.
There are immense implications, both for your future freedom and your future economic viability. But, on the other hand, it beats being dead, doesn’t it?
Total Costs of Self-Defense
So, all total, your act of legitimate self-defense, if performed in public, will likely cost upwards of $100,000. If the same act is performed at home, the likelihood of being arrested and tried will go down considerably, but as I am writing this for readers of Concealed Carry Magazine and not Home Defense Magazine, we had better plan for the worst case. And, if the above isn’t a hard enough pill to swallow, we still have the civil suit to worry about.
The decision to carry a gun in public should not be taken lightly. There are immense implications, both for your future freedom and your future economic viability. But, on the other hand, it beats being dead, doesn’t it? Future articles will detail how we can minimize these liabilities.
[ Marty Hayes is President and Director of the Firearms Academy of Seattle, Inc., and one of the founders of the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network. He has over 30 years experience in law enforcement and firearms training, along with extensive experience as an expert witness and legal consultant. ]