• What to Do After a Self-Defense Shooting

    As a reminder, in self-defense training you are taught never to shoot with intent to kill; you shoot to stop the threat of death or great bodily harm. This is not meant to say that you are to aim your firearm at the attacker’s leg, foot or hand. You are in fact instructed to shoot at the center of exposed mass. Most often this will be the center of the attacker’s chest. If the byproduct of stopping the threat is death, that is not your concern. Once the threat of death or great bodily harm passes you must stop your use of deadly force or risk criminal charges. You need to be indifferent regarding the health of the attacker. Your only concern should be stopping his forward motion and preventing your own death.

    For legal reasons, never use the phrases and or words “kill”, "accident", "mistake" or "I didn't mean to" (just to name a few), when referring to or describing your own actions. You cannot claim self-defense if the shooting was an accident or a mistake. Do not let your own words send you to prison. A claim of self-defense is an affirmative defense that is reserved for intentional acts based on necessity. It is also important to mention that you do not automatically get to claim self defense at your trial, should you be arrested and charged. The defendant and the attorney will have the burden of production in order for the judge to allow the defendant to argue self defense in front of the jury. The "burden of production" may also be referred to as establishing a prima facie case for self defense. Having the burden of production reinforces the importance of self defense legal training and knowing ahead of time what self defense is and what self defense is not. If charged with murder or manslaughter and also not being allowed to argue self defense in front of the jury, this poses some serious challenges for the defense attorney.

    After a self-defense shooting, remaining calm and in control will be important because it will set the tone for how others perceive you and how law enforcement officers interact with you. After all, an out of control and irrational person with a gun may make others uncomfortable and create a dangerous situation that otherwise would not be dangerous. Employ the use of safe gun handling techniques so there are no accidents. Do not sweep the barrel of your gun across innocent bystanders. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard to avoid an accidental discharge.

    If you should have to fire your gun in self-defense to protect your life or the life of a family member, your first priority is ensuring your continued safety. Many times criminals will work in pairs or groups so ensure there are no additional threats in the area. Seek out some form of cover even if it is only having a wall to your back. If it is not safe to remain in the area of the shooting then leave. Go to the nearest gas station or retail establishment and call 911 immediately. Otherwise stay where you are and call 911. If someone (a bystander) tells you that they have already called the police, call yourself to ensure the accuracy of the information and to have record that you called as well.

    Pertinent information for the 911 operator:

    • Location and or address
    • Name
    • You have a permit to carry a firearm (assuming you do)
    • You were attacked, someone tried to kill you and you had to fire your gun in self-defense
    • Provide a description of yourself and state whether or not you are holding the criminal at gunpoint or if you have your firearm in your hand
    • Request medical attention for your attacker (MN statute 609.662) and yourself if required
    • Follow the instructions of the 911 operator unless you feel the instructions will jeopardize your safety

    When speaking to the 911 operator, only provide information related to your safety and only provide limited information on the most obvious facts regarding the shooting. Do not provide details regarding the incident. From this point forward you are in legal jeopardy and everything that you do and everything that you say can be used against you in court (criminal and or civil).

    In the state of Minnesota if you shoot someone you are legally obligated to render aid. This is as simple as asking the 911 operator for an ambulance. Criminals are dangerous and sometimes criminals will “fake” injury or death in an attempt to gain an advantage in the altercation. Do not approach the person you have just shot. This person may still be dangerous.

    While waiting for the police to arrive, do not have protracted conversations with witnesses, do not threaten witnesses and be mindful of the direction your firearm is pointed. Ask those in the area to remain and wait for the police as they are witnesses. If the criminal attempts to flee, let him. You are not legally obligated to prevent the criminals flight and you certainly cannot shoot a fleeing criminal. However, should the criminal attempt to regain control of a weapon, it would be prudent to conclude that your life was once again in jeopardy and the use of deadly force would be legal.

    While waiting for the police, it is imperative that the integrity of the scene be intact for the investigation that will soon follow. Always be aware of the attacker’s weapon. The attacker’s weapon is evidence that will help to prove your case should you end up in court. Some bystanders may want to assist the attacker and provide medical attention. You should strongly advise against this action as the attacker may still be armed or the person going to the aid of the attacker may be an accomplice and use the attacker’s weapon against you. Maintain distance between bystanders and the attacker, but never threaten anyone as this is likely to be misinterpreted later.

    When greeting the police, it is likely they will have their guns out and drawn on you. Remain calm and rational and follow all instructions immediately and keep your hands visible. All actions should be slow and precise. The police will want to secure the scene and bring things under control. When they arrive, all they will see is you holding a gun on the person that you have shot. Do not argue with the police or other witnesses on the scene. Witnesses may have a distorted view of what happened or may intentionally give false testimony because they are friends with the attacker.

    Even if you are an attorney or were a cop in a former life, you are most likely not qualified to make statements to the police immediately following a self-defense shooting. This is because of the psychological and physiological effects a deadly encounter has on the human body (more on this later). When questioned by the police only answer questions with obvious and self-evident answers like your name, where you live, he tried to kill me, I had to defend myself, there is his weapon, those people are witnesses, yes I have a permit to carry and so on.

    When the police press for details regarding the self-defense shooting, you need to respectfully respond with something similar to the following:

    "Officer, I want to cooperate fully but I wish to speak with my attorney. In addition, I do not consent to a search"
    Questions the police may ask you:

    • How many shots did you fire
    • Where were you standing
    • What kind of weapon did the attacker have
    • What was said by the criminal
    • What did you say to the criminal
    • What were you doing prior to the attack
    • How much time passed

    These types of details need to be discussed with your attorney and no one else. Between the complexities of the legal system, errors made by law enforcement, misspoken statements, misinterpretations and malicious prosecutions, the deck of cards is severely stacked against the private citizen.

    If your spouse is with you, your spouse needs to invoke their rights as well regarding an attorney and no consent to a search. If you have children with you, you need to invoke their rights on their behalf. Request that your children not be questioned unless in your presence and in the presence of your attorney.

    Regarding your rights, law enforcement will do whatever they want and sometimes make the rules up as they go or even lie to get information. Let your attorney sort things out later. Never resist police action, never argue with the cops or attempt to give a legal lesson on constitutional law, doing so will only add complication to your case and invariably cost you more money. On the street, the police have the power and authority over you. Do not attempt to fight them on their own turf. Take the battle into the courtroom.

    After a defensive shooting outside the home, there is a high probability you will be arrested and held until things get sorted out. If you plan to carry a firearm outside the home with a permit, have a criminal defense attorney lined-up. In the event you should need one, flipping through the Yellow Pages from Hennepin County Jail at 2AM is not the best of plans.

    If you are forced to defend yourself in your home and the person you have shot is not known to you and forced entry into the home is obvious, the police will tend to give the defender the benefit of the doubt. However, all the same rules still apply and that is, you want to speak to an attorney and you do not consent to a search. This is still important even when the shooting happens in your home.

    Law enforcement is responsible for collecting information and assigning blame. Only the prosecutor can decide whether or not to pursue legal action against you. The police do not make this decision even if they tell you that they do (they of course do have influence). The police have been specially trained in interrogation techniques and this often includes lying and bending the rules to extract a confession. Generally speaking, it would be fair to say that most people get themselves deeper into trouble as a result of what they say to police. When law enforcement officers are themselves involved in a shooting, the officer is specifically told not to make statements to anyone without consulting his or her attorney. What is good for the police should be good for private citizens as well.

    Regardless of the situation (shooting or not), if law enforcement demands that you accompany them to the police station for questioning, then you are most likely a suspect in a crime. Ask the officer, “Am I under arrest?” If the officers answer is “no” then ask the officer, “Am I being detained against my will?” If the officer replies “no” then politely and respectfully tell the officer that your attorney will be in contact to answer any questions and that you are leaving. If you should end up at the police station after all of this, your reply to any and all questions is, “I want to speak to my attorney and I do not consent to a search”.