Last week, we talked about what to do in the immediate aftermath of a situation where you employed your firearm, whether or not you actually fired it. Our readers are likely familiar with the basic dos and don’ts.
What happens next depends on the circumstances. Did you discharge your firearm? If so, were the assailants wounded or killed? Were there witnesses, and how credible are they? Were they friends or associates of your attackers and thus potentially biased?
To Prosecute or Not to Prosecute … That Is the Question
Ideally, after you (along with your lawyer) have told your story and any other witnesses have told theirs, police will make a decision. If your story seems airtight, they may decide not to arrest or press any charges and basically send you on your merry way.
Unfortunately, such an outcome is the exception, not the rule because the harsh reality of the criminal justice system is that everyone, from the street cop and detective to the city and/or county prosecutor, has a vested interest in prosecuting you. Hint: No one gets points for not filing charges.
Cops who make arrests that lead to prosecutions get promoted to detectives. Detectives who bring cases to prosecutors that produce convictions gain status and promotions to lieutenants or even captains. Everyone wants to rack up wins.
But it is the prosecutor, more than anyone, who lives and dies by his or her conviction rate. I’ve been in social gatherings of various county and state attorneys, and whenever they meet one another for the first time, the first thing they do is compare conviction rates.
The first step in most cases is a preliminary (or pre-trial) hearing, where the basic facts of the case are laid out for a judge. Here again, if the facts of the case are overwhelmingly in your favor, the judge may very well dismiss all charges.
However, if there is conflicting testimony or contradictory evidence, the natural tendency of the court is to “let a jury decide” — in which case the judge will bind you over for trial.
This is the point at which prosecutors will try to get you to plead down (i.e. a reduction from a felony to a misdemeanor) in exchange for a reduced penalty. Why? Because a guilty plea goes on record as a conviction (but without the time and effort of a trial).
It may shock you if your lawyer advises you to accept a plea. After all, you sincerely believe you were in the right and want your day in court. But a savvy attorney may see that your case is likely to lose in court and that accepting a deal may be better in the long run. A felony conviction is no laughing matter.
You’re Going to Trial – Judge or Jury?
Finally, you have the constitutional right to a trial by a jury. But you also have the option of a bench trial. In these, you waive your right to a jury trial and agree to allow a single judge to decide your case.
Make no mistake, this is a huge decision and absolutely requires a savvy and experienced attorney. He or she must know the judges involved, because judges vary in views as much as any of us. Look at the Supreme Court.
As always, be smart and be safe.
About John Caile
NRA Certified Instructor John Caile has more than 35 years of experience in the firearms industry, including training others in concealed carry and practical handgun shooting skills. As the communications director of the Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee, he was instrumental in passing Minnesota’s landmark concealed carry permit law. John has appeared on national talk radio and network and public television and is a contributing writer for Concealed Carry Magazine. He continues his lifelong activism for gun owners and their rights in Palm Coast, Florida.