Now What?: Protect Yourself After a Self Defense Shooting
By Attorney Michael Giles
You were prepared enough to defend yourself in the face of a potentially lethal attack, but how do you prepare for what comes next? By knowing what to expect and following some simple rules.
Quite often how you react after the shots were fired will determine if you face criminal charges for defending your life. Knowing how and when to shoot is only half the training you need. Just as importantly you need to mentally train to deal with the aftermath and law enforcement response. The following list is designed to assist you with your aftermath preparation. As always you are encouraged to consult with a 2nd Amendment attorney in your jurisdiction to determine if these general guidelines should be supplemented for your specific area or state laws.
1. STAY AT THE SCENE: Unless staying is too dangerous, you should NEVER leave the scene of a shooting. It is a natural instinct to run away from danger, and in the emotional aftermath of a shooting getting away may seem like the thing to do. Don’t! Many people, cops and prosecutors included, believe that innocent people don’t run. In some jurisdictions prosecutors are allowed to argue to the jury that flight indicates guilt. Don’t give them that argument.
2. DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING: The evidence needs to say the same thing you do. Cleaning up or moving evidence changes what the scene tells the police. If other people are with you make sure they don’t touch anything either. They may just want to be helpful but they might cause you more trouble.
3. CALM DOWN A LITTLE THEN CALL 911: This one is tough to do but you must. Your 911 call will be the first thing the police hear about your shooting and will be played for the jury if you are charged. You will be upset immediately after shooting another human and may say something untrue or unwise in your haste to call for help. Take a few deep breaths, make sure the threat is truly over and try to organize your thoughts as much as possible before you make the call. 30 seconds may save you 30 years.
4. HOLSTER YOUR GUN: Being the only person holding a firearm at a “man with a gun” call could get you shot by responding officers. Remember all they know is someone reported a shooting and they will respond expecting a dangerous situation. If the threat is gone, holster your firearm or put it down in a safe location. If the police arrive before you can, drop it immediately when ordered to do so.
5. EXPECT TO BE DETAINED: You will be detained, maybe even handcuffed. This is normal police procedure. Even if all of the evidence at the scene, including witnesses, says you are innocent, the investigation will take hours. Be polite but stick to your plan and don’t talk without an attorney present, especially if you are read your Miranda warning and transported to a police station.
6. TALK TO A LAWYER BEFORE MAKING A DETAILED STATEMENT: Immediately after a shooting you will WANT to talk. It is natural, and you will eventually tell your story, just not without a lawyer. You also need to provide law enforcement with some information so they can do their job. How do you do you talk enough without talking too much? While there is no one size fits all response, planning in advance to say as little as necessary will help keep you on track under stress. Here is what I tell my clients to say:
That person attacked me. I shot him because I feared for my life. I don’t want to say anything else until I have spoken to my attorney and had a chance to calm down. I want to be co-operative but I am very upset right now and need to call my attorney. I hope you understand.
7. THE POLICE ARE NOT YOUR FRIEND: That does not mean they are necessarily your enemy either, but, by their very nature, cops tend to be suspicious and have a job to do. They also have all the power and you just told them you won’t be making a detailed statement without a lawyer present. They will try everything they can to get you to talk. They may threaten you with arrest and a lifetime in prison, they may claim to have a video that shows you were in the wrong or an eyewitness that will do the same. While all of that is possible, the police are more likely to use a technique you have seen on television or in the movies.
8. SO DON’T FALL FOR A GOOD COP/BAD COP ROUTINE: Yes, it really is a tactic used by police. And it really works. You will be upset and want to talk and they know it. One cop will threaten all sorts of things while the other makes promises to listen, understand and help you. Both just want you to talk. Don’t.
9. DON’T ARGUE THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE: Another way the police will try to get you to talk is by telling you they know you are lying, or some other piece of evidence that is simply not true. By law they are allowed to lie to you in the course of an investigation. Sometimes the lie is designed to get you to challenge the assertion and “get the confession ball rolling.” Don’t argue with them. Politely tell them again you will not talk until you have spoken to your attorney and then shut up.
10. ALWAYS BE POLITE and DON’T LECTURE THE POLICE: Police are in a position of authority and do not respond well to belligerent or hostile people who challenge that authority. Use “Sir” and “Ma’am” often and sincerely. Not only will it help you with the officers but if you are being recorded it will show that you were polite, maybe even to a jury. Likewise, even if you are a Constitutional or legal scholar, lecturing the police on your rights, and by implication why they don’t know what those rights are, is not wise. Even if the officer tells you something you know to be incorrect or blatantly false (which might be said just to get you talking), you will not gain anything by arguing with him about it.
11. BE PREPARED FOR THE POLICE TO BE AGGRESSIVE: Don’t be surprised if every responding officer treats you like a criminal. You may have firearms pointed at you, be yelled at, hand cuffed, forced to the ground, put in the back of a patrol car, interrogated and, yes, even jailed. Why would this happen? Because the police have a job to do and sometimes this is how they do it. That is not to say any or all of these things will happen to you, only that they might and you need to respond properly. Don’t take it personally. Do not resist and do not argue. No one ever talked themself out of being arrested if the officer had already made up their mind to take them to jail, but plenty have talked themself into jail, and later prison, by reacting poorly or talking to the police. Cooperate fully with police commands and call your attorney.
12. KNOW AN ATTORNEY BEFORE YOU NEED TO: Strictly speaking this is not really part of what to do after a shooting, but it is often the reason people fail to follow the first 11 suggestions. It is far easier to ask to see your attorney, and then remain silent while you wait, if you have one in mind or on retainer. Likewise, trying to find an attorney you trust and who understands your issues can be a real challenge when you are in a jail cell. You have already taken the affirmative step of being able to defend yourself from a violent attack so go just a little further. Research attorneys in your area and meet with several to decide who you would call when your life is on the line. Put an attorney on retainer if you must, but have the name and a phone number of an attorney you know and trust in your wallet. Tell a friend whose phone number you have memorized who your attorney is in case your call happens from a holding cell, in the middle of the night, and after your wallet with the attorneys phone number in it is already in an evidence bag.
While these suggestions will help, the issue of how to survive the aftermath of a justifiable self defense shooting is complex indeed and you should take it very seriously. You need to approach your preparations for the aftermath every bit as seriously as you did the decision to own or carry a firearm for self defense. If the first rule of a gun fight is to survive, the first rule of the aftermath is to be aware of what might happen and plan ahead. If you plan ahead, train properly, obey the law and follow the advice of your attorney, you should be alright following a shooting.