Could Self-Defense Send You to Prison?
September 24, 2010
You've just been involved in a shooting, justified or not, your life is changed forever
Editor's note: The following is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice. For legal advice, consult your attorney.
As producer of Personal Defense TV, I'm fortunate to be involved in a lot of training in preparation for a personal defense encounter. Situational awareness, avoidance, threat levels, front sight, press--all are key elements in avoiding, deescalating or winning an attempted attack.
This past season, while training with Marty and Gila Hayes at Firearms Academy of Seattle, I was reminded that there's another very important component to successful personal defense, and that's being prepared for what happens to you legally after being involved in a personal defense shooting.
I wouldn't go so far as to say I had an epiphany on the subject; after all, legally armed citizens should have some awareness that if they're involved in any kind of shooting there will be an investigation. But after speaking with Marty and Gila, the indicator light came on in my head warning me that I really had no clue as to how precarious the legal landscape can be after a personal defense shooting.
Marty and Gila recognized the importance of educating armed citizens to the legal aftermath and formed the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network. The Network consists of like-minded armed citizens across the nation with a goal to educate members about the legalities of using deadly force for personal defense and how to interact with the legal system after a shooting.
A significant benefit of the Network is an inner network of attorneys and legal experts with experience in defending personal defense cases. Members also have potential eligibility for financial assistance if facing unmeritorious prosecution after a personal defense incident.
The Network reminded me a lot of a legal assistance benefit I had with a previous employer. There, employees paid a monthly fee and in return got assistance with such things as attorney referral, will preparation and adoption. Similarly with the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, members pay an annual fee and in return get an informational DVD set on the legal parameters governing deadly force, interaction with law enforcement after a shooting, and how attorneys mount a legal defense of one involved in a personal defense shooting.
Further, Network members can access a list of affiliated attorneys in their area who have access to the Network's court-recognized legal experts in the area of personal defense. Member's attorneys have access to case review and consultation about defense strategies and members are also eligible to request financial assistance to defray legal costs.
I posted about the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network on the Guns & Ammo forum, and online users came back with some interesting points. Primary was the assumption that because their state had a "Castle Doctrine" (CD), they would be immune to any criminal charges after a rightful shooting. When asked about that, Marty pointed out some flaws in that assumption, not the least of which is that CD varies from state to state, and you have to be completely familiar with the one in your state. Furthermore, you also need to be familiar with your state's case law, as while you might not run afoul of your CD today, you might be against case law tomorrow.
Online users also played the CD card when it came to any civil lawsuits after a justified shooting. Again, Marty pointed out something that really concerns me. Depending on how your state's CD is written, you may not be protected from a civil suit. For instance, say your state prosecuting attorney decides it was a totally justified shooting or that there's not enough evidence to go to court. In that case, CD was never applied, so you may still be subject to a civil suit.
Another important point online users brought up was concern that by being a member of the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network, it could be perceived as some sort of "premeditation" of wanting to be involved in a shooting. I personally don't think that good education or training is ever a bad thing, and as Marty told me, taking a class or joining a group is no more premeditative than legally carrying your gun loaded.
Whether you keep a gun at your bedside, near the cash register in your store, or on your hip as you go about your business, it's important to get the training so you know how to use it effectively and safely if you ever need to. Beyond that, I believe it's your responsibility as an armed citizen to know the laws in your state about lethal force, and to know what can happen to you after a justified shooting. To that end, I truly believe the Armed Citizens' Legal Defense Network is a great place to start. Even if you never need to call on it for help, the Network will connect you with like-minded gun owners and legal experts.