In our more than ten years representing U.S. & Texas LawShield members, we have had plenty of experience dealing with what people have done to make their situations more complicated and difficult before, during, and after using force or deadly force to defend themselves. We call these situations “War Stories” or lessons learned.
Lesson 1: Road Rage
One of the most common circumstances where people get charged with unlawfully using force or deadly force is during a road rage situation. Believe me; we know that being singled out by a maniac driving a 3,000-pound deadly weapon can be terrifying. Unfortunately, it is usually the initial victim of the road rage incident who gets in trouble for his or her responsive actions. The best defense to a road rage situation is to remove yourself from the area. Speed up, slow down, change lanes, exit the freeway; just get away as quickly as you can, then call the police and report the aggressive, reckless driver. This is not about egos—this is about staying alive while staying out of legal trouble.
In the event you cannot get away, don’t be lured into responding with your own rage. This is especially true with regard to responding with a firearm. As long as the aggressive driver is not threatening you with a gun or is not attempting to get into your car or pull you out of it, do not show, point, or discharge a firearm. If the road rager is still in their car and you show them your gun, you have played right into their hands. They will now call the police and tell them that they minded their own business when a crazy person, YOU, pulled up beside him and pointed a gun at them. This is the ultimate form of road rage, getting you to respond with a firearm and then calling the police to report you as the aggressive driver.
Remember, if you are in your metal box, and they are in their metal box, the police and the prosecutors will believe there was no imminent threat of harm that necessitated a response with a firearm. Even if they were to bump your car, they’d claim it was an unintentional fender bender, and you overreacted by pointing a gun at them. Displaying your firearm is only appropriate as a last resort to protect yourself in situations where the other person has a weapon, or the other driver is out of their car and is attempting to get in your vehicle or remove you from it. It is a sad commentary on the world we live in, but to defend themselves against false accusations, more and more people are mounting cameras in their cars. This is not a bad idea and can certainly provide much-needed evidence in a self-defense case.
Lesson 2: Using a Gun Against A “Less Than Deadly” Threat
Another situation that can put people into legal hot water is when they display or discharge their firearm at another person who may appear threatening, but is not armed with a weapon. We have heard prosecutors say many, many times, “you can’t shoot an unarmed man.” Even though we all know that every year many people are strangled, maimed, or killed by criminals who did not have weapons, the police and prosecutors almost always assume the person with the gun is the aggressor when the other individual is unarmed.
It is important to remember that words, no matter how inciting and aggressive, do not justify the response of a use of force or deadly force. You must wait until you observe the manifestation of a physical act that constitutes a threat of unlawful injury before you can respond with force. Only when there is a reasonable fear of serious injury or death can you respond with deadly force. In many cases, this may mean that there must be physical contact resulting in injuries before a jury will find it reasonable that you shot and perhaps killed someone who merely threatened to “beat you up.”
Lesson 3: Talking Your Way Into Criminal Charges
Finally, many people who have used force or deadly force in self-defense have unfortunately talked themselves into getting charged with a crime. When the police respond to a scene, they are usually given very little information prior to their arrival. Remember, the police are there to investigate an incident in order to determine what facts will be turned over to the district attorney. The district attorney will file charges based solely on that information. Unfortunately, the first version of events a police officer hears will often be the basis of their working theory of the case. Many times in self-defense situations, the person who calls 911 will give their version first. In these situations, it is important to remember when speaking with the police and 911 operators that the facts you give are limited to those detailing the criminal acts of the other person.
We have seen situations where simply agreeing with some of the “facts” the police obtained from other sources can give the police enough corroboration, which can lead to you being charged. The police must know why you used your weapon before you admit to using your weapon.
As Independent Program Attorneys, we have seen and handled thousands of self-defense incidents, and use this experience on a daily basis to advise Members in both proactive and reactive circumstances.
If you have any questions, please contact U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.
The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.