It happened again the other night. Someone on my Facebook page (you do follow Cornered Cat on Facebook, don’t you?) made an interesting statement that’s worth discussing here. Here’s part of what they said:
“All you need to do is claim that you were afraid for your life & the life of your children! No reasonable jury would ever convict you!”
The problem is, there is no “all you have to do” that follows a bad shoot. After a good shoot, there are things you can do to help your case. There are also things you can do to hurt it. But after a bad shoot, or even an ambiguous one, you can’t just say some magic words and expect the trouble to vanish.
This story from Texas, and the raw video that goes with it, illustrate the point very clearly. The defendant in this unfortunate case said he was in fear for his life. But the jury didn’t buy it, because his actions at the time were not consistent with the fear he was claiming. If he’d really thought he was about to die, he would not have walked into that situation and remained there for as long as he did, especially after he was asked to leave and had no reason to stay.
Here’s the point: You have to do the right thing at the time, and you have to explain it, with the help of your lawyer, in a way that reasonable people will understand and agree that what you did was the right thing. If you don’t do the right thing to begin with, all the words in the world won’t save your rear end later.
Here’s another uncomfortable story. I have a former neighbor who’s now in jail, and will be there for another few years, even though he claimed he was “in fear for his life” at the time he shot someone. In this case as in the other one I linked above, the defendant claimed to be in mortal fear, but his actions during the event were not consistent with that claim. That was the wedge the prosecutor used to destroy his claim of self defense.
Again, it’s not enough to say some magic words. Your actions must be reasonable under the circumstances, and you must explain your actions in such a way that the jury can understand and agree with what you did. That’s why we work so hard to understand the legal limits of self defense beforehand. It’s also why it’s a good idea to join an organization such as the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network that will supply the financial resources and legal expertise you need to weather the aftermath.
If all of this worries you, that just means it’s time to learn more. I suggest starting with a very informative e-book titled, What Every Gun Owner Needs to Know about Self-Defense Law. It’s a short and relatively easy read that covers the basics. You can also read through the legal articles here on Cornered Cat:
- Ability, Opportunity, Jeopardy
- Myths About Self-Defense
- What About Rape?
- Buyer Beware
- Legal Resources
- Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws
Bottom line: There are no magic words that turn a bad shoot into a good one. When you learn the rules in advance and stay focused on the goal of protecting innocent life, you will almost certainly do the right thing at the time. Doing the right thing at the time is the best step you can take toward protecting yourself from the legal consequences of a bad shoot.
Excellent advice, as always. The gun is a tool of last resort, not a first response.
For the first case, the Texas “castle doctrine” provision is penal code section 9.32 (c)
And as I tell my students, even if you aren’t legally required to retreat, it still can be the smart thing to do. These cases are the other side of what we were earlier discussing. These people were too willing to be rude and assertive.