Have you considered what you’d say to responding and investigating officers in the aftermath of a deadly force encounter? If not, then as a prudent person, you should think about it out now…before the situation arises. You never know when life will throw you an extremely unpleasant curveball. Those times in particular are when a good attorney can become your best friend.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with asking for an attorney, knowing the right time and place to ask can make all the difference in the world to your defense. That goes double in today’s climate where politically-motivated prosecutions sometimes follow righteous self-defense incidents.
Actions of an Innocent Person
First, don’t act like a guilty man or woman. When the first words out of your mouth are, “I want my lawyer,” you have done a surprisingly good imitation of a street-wise criminal. What is any self-respecting cop supposed to think? Dead body + gun + “I want my lawyer” = jail.
If, on the other hand, the officer hears, “My life was threatened, I had to shoot,” he forms a slightly different picture. In addition, if he first learned of the incident by a call from you to 9-1-1, and at that time you indicated that you were the victim of a robbery (or whatever crime caused you to believe your life was in danger) then he forms a different picture of the call before he even gets there.
You can do a lot worse than asking for an attorney when police start asking questions. You can do much better though if you can remember a few basic things.
As a long-time trainer, I prefer the five-point plan taught back in the day by Massad Ayoob at his Lethal Force Institute classes (now the Massad Ayoob Group). It’s what we now teach in our classes. Here’s the quick and dirty:
- VICTIM: Claim your role as the victim to responding/investigating officers. Example: “That guy tried to rob me and I thought he was going to kill me!”
- PROSECUTE: Tell the police you’ll cooperate with the offender’s prosecution.
- EVIDENCE: Point out any evidence. Identify to the officers all relevant evidence. Police aren’t all-knowing and they might miss important evidence that might go towards your exoneration. If the bad guy had a partner who ran away, provide a description.
- WITNESSES: Identify any witnesses who saw the encounter. Oftentimes witnesses will claim to have seen nothing.
- LAWYER: Ask to talk to an attorney before giving a statement or answering questions. Yes, it’s okay to tell cops your name, address and date of birth without Perry Mason at your side. Questions about what happened, or what you saw, or how you perceived things? Nope. “I’ll be happy to answer after I’ve consulted with counsel.”
Frankly, unless you’re used to getting into defensive gun uses with alarming regularity, I would strongly consider asking for an ambulance ride to get checked out if you’re feeling at all anxious or unwell. Your blood pressure may well be in the stratosphere. You may be in the early stages of an anxiety attack or you might be having a heart attack. You may have suffered an injury that you don’t even realize. What’s more, you’ve probably not had an adrenaline dump like that in a long time, if ever.
Don’t lie to the cops and tell them you might be having a heart attack when you’re not. Describe your condition and ask for an ambulance. Keep it simple: “I’m not feeling so well. Can you call an ambulance for me please?” Get professionally checked out unless you’re sure you’re in good shape.
This particular post-incident plan for interacting with officers is the best I’ve encountered so far. It sets the tone of the investigation. It offers you an opportunity to make sure relevant evidence is discovered and identified. At the same time lets the officers know that you know your rights.
In short, think through what you’d tell the local constabulary in the aftermath of a self-defense incident now, not when you’re in the back of a squad car wearing bracelets.