I just shot someone in self defense, now what?

There are literally hundreds of training programs available to pretty much everyone on how to actually shoot a CCW weapon, how to carry the weapon, and legally when you are allowed to draw and use your CCW weapon, but there is no consensus on what to do after you have used your CCW weapon in self-defense.

Common “wisdom” on the topic seems to fall into one of two extremes:

  • Say absolutely nothing, demand a lawyer.
  • Answer any and all questions, after all what do you have to hide?

You’ll find an endless series of arguments on this topic that devolve into name calling on all of the popular CCW related forums, but nothing really concrete to tell you what a good course of action would be.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic, and it seems to me that people who follow either of the above courses of action seem to have a much higher chance of ending up in court. If you say nothing and demand a lawyer, the cops who responded to the call are going to start looking at you as if you’re trying to hide something, or are guilty of something. In the worst case they will miss evidence or witnesses that could have cleared you of any wrongdoing. On the other hand, if you start running your mouth, chances are you’re going to make some contradicting statements, or say something that when looked at in the wrong context will make you look like you broke the law.

Personally, I think that the correct answer lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

Part of the difficulty in finding solid information is that defensive shootings by CCW holders are relatively rare things. After going through all of the police reports and court records involving CCW holder shootings that I could find (which were not all that many), I was kind of at a loss for how to proceed.

So I started looking at the problem I was trying to solve: as a CCW holder, if I have to shoot in defense, how do I prevent being charged with a crime, and having to fight it out in court?

Now sadly enough there are jurisdictions where the DA will actively prosecute any CCW holders that are involved in a defensive shooting. If you are unfortunate enough to be involved in a defensive shooting where this is true (as it is in many places in California), get a good lawyer, and be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of money proving your innocence.

After wrestling with this I came to the conclusion that I’m either going to be charged or not based on information gathered by the first responders and the detective(s) assigned to the case (barring a DA with a political agenda). So what are their guidelines for investigating CCW holder shootings? What things are they looking for to determine if the CCW holder was in the right or acted illegally?

As it turns out, I really couldn’t find much in this regard. I called a couple of friends who work local PD and Sheriff’s Department to ask their opinions. They both suggested that I look into the departmental policies for Officer Involved Shootings (OIS).

What I found was very interesting. It seems that cops wrestle with this same issue. Apparently the policies and guidelines for OIS vary greatly from department to department, and sometimes from precinct to precinct. What I found was that in many law enforcement forums (and consistent with the Force Science Institute’s recommendations), the advice was generally along these lines:

  • Give a brief “public safety statement” on scene.
  • Get hospital transport.
  • Consult with a lawyer before giving a statement, generally 24-48 hours after the shooting.

A little further investigation shows that the “public safety statement” is suggested to consist only of the following (this specific example is from the Mount Prospect, Illinois PD’s OIS policy):

  1. Are you injured?
  2. If you know of anyone who was injured, what is his or her location?
  3. In what direction did you fire your weapon(s)?
  4. If any suspects are at large, what are their descriptions?
  5. What was their direction of travel?
  6. How long ago did they flee?
  7. For what crimes are they wanted?
  8. With what weapons are they armed?
  9. Does any evidence need to be preserved?
  10. Where is it located?
  11. Did you observe any witness(es)?
  12. Where are they?

It seems to me that giving a “public safety statement” along these lines would be very beneficial to a CCW holder that has been involved in a shooting. It addresses any immediate concerns for preserving safety, evidence, and witnesses. All of these things work in your favor. The key thing here is to remember that people who have been in a situation where they have used a firearm in self-defense (citizens and police alike) have a tendency to run their mouths. It’s a stress reaction and a perfectly normal human reaction. Unfortunately every single thing that comes out of your mouth can (and generally will) be used against you in court.

Even if the shooting was squeaky clean, if your story changes at all from telling it to one person to the next (if you let them, every cop you see will try to question you for this very purpose), someone is going to notice that and it is going to raise questions. This is a case where saying less is far better than saying more. If you hit the major points above and nothing else (and only give the statement one time), you have demonstrated that you are trying to be helpful. Wanting to stop at that is not unreasonable, a full interview can always be conducted within the next couple of days.

I find this really interesting, as are the further recommendations from FSI. On the topic of hospital transport, Laura Scarry (a prominent police attorney and certified Force Science Analyst) had the following to say:

This is a controlled, secure environment where an officer can get away from news and cell phone cameras that might otherwise feed intrusive footage of him from the scene to TV and YouTube.

Officers on some departments may be pressured inappropriately by supervisors to give a statement before the end of shift or write a report about the shooting before they go home. At a hospital, an officer can explain to a doctor that he’s keyed up from the stress of the incident and request a Valium. If he’s sedated, he can’t be required to give an immediate statement.

The important takeaway here is that unilaterally the Force Science Institute (and those certified by same) recommend that the shooter not be interviewed immediately. Among the reasons given for this are the growing number of studies that conclude that stress and fatigue negatively impact memory. There are many police unions in the US that have agreements that OIS interviews will not be conducted until at least 24 hours have elapsed from the time of the shooting. This is done because studies like the one above clearly demonstrate that it is beneficial to everyone involved, as the shooter’s memory will be anywhere from 50-70% more accurate when well rested after a stressful event.

They are specifically speaking about police officers, but I do not see any good reason for this to not apply to CCW holders as well. The dynamics of human memory do not change when one puts on a badge.

These are not the only considerations or possibilities of what will happen after you are involved in a defensive shooting, and I urge you to do your own research and don’t take my advice as gospel. I’m not a lawyer, DA, or police officer. I’m just a guy with a keyboard.

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