Citizen’s Guide to Dealing with the Police After a Self-Defense Shooting

Whenever you pull out your firearm in Michigan, you are placing your future in the hands of others.  Unlike some states, Michigan does not prohibit an arrest or prosecution for the use of fatal or not-fatal force in self-defense.  This means that the police will investigate the incident, which can include questioning, collecting evidence, and possibly an arrest.  Whether criminal charges are authorized is a decision made by the Prosecutor, but most people are unprepared for what happens after the use of self-defense.  This lack of preparedness is dangerous, since any misstep or incorrect statement could jeopardize your legitimate self-defense claim and possibly lead to not only loss of 2nd amendment rights but your personal freedom and a lengthy prison term.

When can I lawfully use force or lethal force in self-defense?

Michigan has two laws that cover various self-defense scenarios. The first is the Castle Doctrine, and this law applies to the use of force inside your home or your place of business. It also covers the use of force to prevent a carjacking. Another self-defense law that applies inside your home if the Castle Doctrine is not available, as well as anywhere else you have a lawful right to be, is the Stand your Ground law. The Gun Crimes Lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm have written extensively on this topic, and readers are advised to look up these articles also. But just because the law says you can use self-defense in certain circumstances this does not mean you won’t be prosecuted.  This is because Michigan’s self defense laws provide a defense they do not bar prosecution. This means you could be charged with Homicide even if you think you properly acted in self defense within the bounds of Michigan law.

How do I prepare for use of self-defense?

The old expressions “Shoot first, ask questions later” and “Better to be judged by 12, than carried by six” are useful to keep you alive.  They are not a great defense against prosecution.  Instead, anyone who anticipates having to use self-defense should plan on what happens after the use of force.  A plan is not evidence of premeditation, but reasonable and responsible due diligence to ensure you are protecting your rights and your safety.  Therefore, you should take time to train on use of force, but not forget the legal ramifications of such action.  You should also plan on what happens after the threat is neutralized.

What should I do immediately after use of force?

Most importantly, you should be safe.  Ensure that the threat is no longer present, and you are in a safe place.  There is not requirement that you remain at the scene or in the home if there is reasonable belief that remaining would be unsafe. Keep in mind that it is important to prepare for the idea that you will not be your normal self.  Instead, you will have just survived a deadly encounter and likely will be experiencing an adrenaline rush.  You may also be suffering from extreme emotional distress. In either scenario there will be a natural chemical reaction in your body that prevents you from thinking, acting, talking, in your normal, baseline self; therefore, it is in your best interest to have a straightforward plan to follow.

Do I call 911?

Yes. Once the situation is safe, you need to call 911.  It is said that guilty people hide their actions, and you don’t want to be assumed to be guilty.  However, while innocent people try to explain their innocence, this can lead to a misstatement, a misunderstanding, or legal misstep especially when you are in a stressful situation.  So, we must limit your statements.  The 911 call is not as simple as a normal call for help.  Instead, anything you say will be recorded and used later.  The recording may even begin before the operator says their first word.  The purpose of the call is to get medical attention for the other party and police for your protection.  To do this you should identify who you are, where you are, who you are with, that there was a shooting, that emergency medical services are needed, and that you are armed.  You are providing this concise information for officer safety and for your own safety. You should not say more, even though the 911 operator will ask.  They are trained to get as much information from you as possible.

When do I call an attorney?

To prevent yourself from giving too much unhelpful information, you should speak to an attorney immediately.  This means that while the police are on the way, you would be well-served to speak to an attorney.  They will have attorney-client privilege, so anything you say to them will be privileged and protected and will not come out later.  You also will need someone to explain what is happening and ensure that you do not provide any statement that may jeopardize your claim of self-defense.  It is uncommon for most people to have thought far enough in advance to have an attorney on stand-by in case of a self-defense shooting.  It may be something you want to consider in advance, as attorneys can be difficult to reach during hours when self-defense claims arise.

What do I do when police arrive?

After you speak to your attorney, you will need to wait for the police and ambulance to arrive.  Remember that the police know you are armed, so be prepared to experience a dangerous or possibly hostile situation as they arrive to an unknown incident where they may fear for their lives.  They will likely disarm you for their safety.  They will also pepper you with questions.  You must resist the impulse to explain your side of the incident.  Your attorney needs to be by your side when you present your version of the events.  Tell the officers that you will not speak about anything, until you speak to your attorney.  If you only state that you wish to remain silent, the police can come back and ask you later. Law enforcement is trained with tactics and techniques to elicit any information from you, from “good-cop/bad-cop,” to being comforting and empathetic, to accusatory and threatening. They are not obligated to be truthful. Remain strong and remain silent. Make sure to be adamant in your request for an attorney.

Will I be arrested? Will I be charged?

Finally, be prepared that there will be a full investigation.  Flashing lights, questioning, and CSI will all be involved.  It will be a stressful scene.  It will be a stressful experience. You may be transported to the police station, even cuffed, and arrested.  If you are taken into custody, you can be held up to 72 hours before being released if there are not immediate criminal charges. You may be held at the local or county facility, but you will be able meet with your attorney, prior to you answering any questions.  If you can hold out until then, you should be in the best position to justify your use of force and avoid any further prosecution.

Please note that in our current environment, there can be immense political pressure to prosecute, even if the facts clearly show that self-defense was justified.  For all these reasons, you may want to take the time, in advance, to find an attorney that will defend you through it all and fight for your freedom.

Contact Information