By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
If you ever need to defend yourself with a handgun, there may be things you’ll have to explain to your attorney.
Last month, I was an attendee and lecturer at a Firearms Law Symposium put on for attorneys by a state bar association. One of the other speakers mentioned that on the firearms-related Internet, there’s a meme to the effect that “a good shoot is a good shoot.”
One hundred eighty lawyers responded with a roll of laughter.
They knew the reality. All any other lawyer has to say is, “This is my theory of the case,” and however far from plausible reality it may be, it is treated as if it could be every bit as valid as the truth that your side is desperately trying to get across to the triers of the facts. I’ve discussed these things with a heckuva lot of lawyers, all tell me they don’t teach guns and dynamics of violent encounters in law school.
I remember the defense lawyer who called me desperately just before closing arguments in a murder case to ask if it was true that for a semi-automatic pistol to fire X number of shots, its slide would have to be manipulated the same X number of times? Because that was what the prosecutor had just told the jury in his close, to convince them each shot had been a deliberate, cold-blooded preparation to murder. I can show you multiple cases where juries convicted the defendant out of what was clear-cut self-defense, at least in part because prosecutors had convinced them the defendants’ use of hollowpoint bullets was “indicia of malice,” and clueless defense lawyers didn’t know how to defuse such explosive BS and show the juries they were being lied to.
Mas lectures on defense of shooting cases at Texas Bar Assn.
seminar. Photo courtesy: Texas State Bar Association
Swimming With Sharks
It’s common parlance to equate lawyers with sharks. Some of them do it themselves. I’ve been an expert witness for courts around the country in weapons and deadly force cases since 1979, and still do my share of them. I can point you to a beautiful and brilliant woman who has practiced law for many years, killed many unmeritorious cases (“unmeritorious” being the legal term for BS) and who has a smiling shark logo hanging on the “shingle” outside her law office. It’s understood lawyers, like sharks, are very powerful, often work on instinct and habit and can do a great deal of damage.
I understand there’s a TV channel that annually offers “shark week” with several days of shark documentaries. Do I need to watch this stuff? I’m writing this on a Thursday, and just on Monday I told a lawyer friend, “I’m living Shark Week.”
When you’re shooting as fast as these students, but in self-defense, a bad guy
can turn into the gunfire faster than you can stop firing, resulting in shots
in his back. Smart lawyers know how to explain this in court.
Were seven rounds of JHP from a Ruger .45 justifiable? Yes, Mas helped the
defense counsel prove in February ’13. The first-degree murder trial ended
in acquittal on all charges.
Monday. Pre-deposition conference with a lawyer from the side who hired me. Very sharp guy. He specializes in defending cops who are wrongly accused of excessive force. We’re working for top cops on litigation that is policy-centric, not individual shooting case-centric. Turns out to be the same dynamics at work, though: The other side doesn’t seem to understand the reality of violent encounters.
Tuesday. Deposition. Opposing counsel is a very sharp lady, and in the course of a long and strenuous day, I think, comes to realize she has been assigned to fight a losing battle. It is the rare situation where the cops who hired me are the plaintiffs fighting a stupid gun-related thing which impairs protection of the public. I am confident of the outcome.
Tuesday continues. A good man who got shot through no fault of his own wants to sue someone who wasn’t at fault either. (The one who was at fault is dead from the same incident and can’t be sued.) I explain to the smart lawyer on the other end why I can’t take the case for him, and why his theory will never prevail. This compassionate attorney asks if I would be available to gently explain that to his client, the would-be plaintiff. I reply in the affirmative.
Tuesday has now gone well into the night. I get a call from the opposite coast from a lawyer representing a cop who, by the attorney’s précis (nutshell description of the case) basically needed to shoot. I tell him if the evidence bears out what he’s saying, I’ll take the case. Here, thank goodness, is a lawyer who I’ve worked homicide with before and who understands reality. I think it will come out in a way that serves justice.
Wednesday. Most of the day is spent at a homicide scene reenacting the shooting with the officer who pulled the trigger. Though the shooting was ruled justified by the local prosecutors, the chief has fired him. The cop is suing for reinstatement. I’ve already reviewed the department’s policy and the entire shooting investigation. Outcome looks good. This lawyer has done such cases before and knows what he needs to establish to achieve justice.
Wednesday night. Am having dinner with my sweetie when I get the call from defense counsel that a murder trial out West has been postponed for the umpteenth time. The prosecution is desperately delaying, apparently having realized they’ve misinterpreted the evidence, but unwilling to admit it and drop the charges. Confident we’ll win at trial, I can wait—the evidence clearly shows it was a justified homicide in reasonably perceived self-defense. Sad the prosecution can’t admit they’re wrong, but ego investment is strong.
Shark Week is over for me at last. I’ve spent Thursday shooting on the range, and my evening writing this column, basking in the happy fact that these are more BS-free environments.