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What not to say after shooting an intruder

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

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Your bedside clock says 3:40 a.m. You have just awakened to a sound like breaking glass.  You pick up the phone to call 911 but the line is dead.  It’s dark in the house and you ease out of bed to retrieve your handgun from the closet safe just as you have practiced dozens of times.  You wait inside your bedroom door with your ear straining to hear. Someone is down the hall sliding something on the tile.    At that instant, the 30-second delay on your security system expires and the alarm begins to peal.  Another crash in the living room and you are now standing in the hall – gun drawn.  A person you have never seen before senses your presence and turns toward you while reaching for his belt.  He is close and coming toward you and has ignored your command to stop.  You don’t specifically remember firing but he goes down after two hollow points catch him in the chest.  The knife he was reaching for drops to the floor next to him as he falls.  Time seems to stand still.  Your cell phone rings and you jump – your security company is on the line about the alarm trip.  You tell them to call the police.  You hang up and call 911 and check his vitals – no pulse or breathing. Now what?

You just shot an armed intruder in self-defense. You have also just stepped into the middle of a legal minefield.  This instance is a clear case of self-defense.  Will it be seen that way? The widely-held belief that you are innocent until proven guilty cannot be presumed.  The new world you have just entered is far from ideal and the burden of proving your innocence will be on you.   What happens next? You will be anxious to talk to the first responders who just arrived, probably police and paramedics. You will also have to overcome an overwhelming and immediate desire to begin justifying your actions to anyone who will listen to you. But for now, saying as little as possible will be the best decision of your life. However, you will only restrain yourself if you know why it is so critical. And you know this because it is one of the key parts of your overall preparedness strategy.

Who among us hasn’t considered the likelihood that we may be called upon use lethal force in self-defense or to protect innocent life?  We pray it never happens but if we are prepared to shoot someone, however justified, then we must be equally prepared to deal with the consequences.  I am constantly trying to improve the resources and skills I need to protect my family just like you.  Yet a critical part of that preparation includes knowing what will happen and what to do after you shoot.  Do you have a clue about the unbelievable complexities that will occur after using deadly force?   Do you know what resources exist to help you deal with them?   If not, then this article is your wake-up call.  It is time to act – now – so that you will be ready in such a situation.

I am not a lawyer. I am not a law enforcement officer. But I do have a some key friends in law enforcement and in state and federal courts. Realize that what is written here is not to be construed as legal advice in any way. It is an exhortation to do your homework, make a plan, and assemble a small team – a lawyer and a few key friends – who agree to be available at a moment’s notice as you will be for them.

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