By: Melissa Pearce, Founding Attorney
Earlier this year, I attend training from Massad Ayoob. I learned some insightful tips from him during the eight-hour course, which I took to further educate myself as a firearms attorney. Most of the other attendees were there to learn tips from him on what to do in a self-defense shooting. Regardless of our reasons for attending, the key points learned from those I spoke with were similar.
The first tip that we agreed upon was get trained in various methods. It is not enough to take just classroom training. If you carry a firearm for self defense, one day you will have to shoot that firearm and it is best to have all the training available to you that you can afford. Do not limit yourself to classroom or training in theory but take practical courses. Most of the instructors in attendance with me that day recommended simulated training that “gets your adrenaline pumping.” Depending on where you live, this may be a competition or facility that provides simulated shooting scenarios not unlike what police officers and military personnel train for. The trainers referred to this as psychological training. When you train under these simulated scenarios, practice recalling what you observed during the times you were actively shooting. Who did you shoot? What were they wearing or look like? How did they threaten you? Who else was around and how far away? This is information that you will be expected to recall and tell your attorney, investigators, and possibly a jury.
The second tip was to preserve your notes from all training and have them accessible to your family when needed. Massad Ayoob recommends copying your notes and sending the original notes to yourself in an envelope marked “Open only in court.” I would expand on this advice and say make two copies. One for your personal review from time to time and the other to be added to a file to be given to your criminal defense attorney when needed. This file should be kept in a location that is accessible to family members or friends and known to them. You do not want your training notes unavailable to your attorney because your family cannot find them while you are in jail awaiting your trial.
The third tip follows up on the second one – document your training. Keep a log of when, where and from whom you take your training. Write down your trainer’s name and contact information. Your attorney may want to call this person to testify on your behalf on what your training involved. Some trainers may offer to assist in your case free of charge. If that offer is made, write it down and the time said. Do not rely on a certificate to provide the information your attorney will need. If you are a range practicing drawing a firing your firearm, document the dates and locations as well.
The fourth tip is for after the shooting – call 911. Your purpose in a self-defense shooting is to stop a threat. Once that threat is stopped, ensure your safety at the location and call 911 to get assistance for the individual shot and possibly yourself, if needed. However, it must be clear that 911 calls are recorded and what you say on the operator will be reviewed by the prosecutor and likely played in a trial, criminal or civil, against you. Limit what you say to the location, that there has been a shooting, and how many people need assistance. If you are with a trusted friend or family member, ask them to call as you will still be under the effects of adrenaline. Do not rely on bystanders to communicate for you because they will be called to testify against you, if the police or prosecutor do not feel the shooting was justified.
The fifth tip is to have a standard operating procedure that can be implemented by you or family after the shooting. Secure your firearm safely and away from any individual. Do not be holding the firearm when the police arrive. If you can unload it, do so. Inform the police that you are willing to cooperate after you have spoken to your attorney. Have someone call your attorney. Let your family know where they can access your defense fund or insurance policy for self-defense shootings. It is recommended that you have one or the other. Criminal defense attorneys in Michigan will likely charge you a retainer of five figures to accept the case. Your defense will likely run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Will your family have access to this amount of money?
The final tip is to talk to attorneys beforehand. Interview attorneys who practice criminal defense and those who handle civil litigation. You may need both types of attorneys after a self-defense shooting. Do not rely on one or two in your area. Find attorneys that are knowledgeable with the firearm laws of the state as well as criminal defense or civil litigation. Compile a list of attorneys around the state. If you are away from your home when you need to defend yourself or family, you will want to know who you trust in the area as an attorney to represent you. You may be able to use the attorney from your home county, but are you prepared to pay travel expenses and accept that the attorney will be an outsider to the local courthouse. Knowing the judges’ practices and procedures as well as the local courthouse nuances is just as critical as knowing the law. When you are interviewing attorneys, ask about using an attorney you trust as a second attorney on the case with local counsel in areas that you travel to frequently.