By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
People love to run their digital mouth on social media. As Sir Francis Bacon observed, discretion in speech is more than eloquence, as what you post may come back to haunt you in a self-defense case.
Bear in mind that this isn’t legal advice. This is just a discussion of ideas using publicly available information. So talk to a lawyer if you need actual legal advice.
Why is that?
A component of criminal laws is the intent of the person who allegedly committed a crime. Certain crimes require a person to have the deliberate intention of committing a certain act.
A murder charge, for instance, requires malice aforethought, premeditation; the accused meant to kill the victim or at least someone.
Murder, meaning the totally malicious and deliberate killing of someone else, is defined by that intent. Manslaughter, by contrast, is just an unlawful killing of another person; the person who committed it didn’t necessarily have the intention of doing so.
How can intent be established? By demonstrating the state of mind of the accused, and one of the best ways to establish state of mind is what a person says to other people – such as on social media!
It’s character evidence. Ever heard of a character witness? Same idea.
If you haven’t gotten the memo by now, social media has been admissible in court for some time. Criminal cases, insurance fraud and so on can all involve a subpoena of social media postings, so be aware of that.
Now, how does this pertain to concealed carry and self-defense?
If a prosecutor can substantiate that you have violent tendencies and are just looking for a plausible reason to shoot somebody, that makes it harder to claim of self-defense.
Don’t believe for a second that “Stand Your Ground” or “Castle Doctrine” laws will save you just because they’re on the books. A common misconception is that these laws give you plausible deniability because someone broke into your home or confronted you on the street.
They actually don’t; it’s more that those laws provide indemnity for the use of force under specific circumstances, and whether or not those circumstances were met is not up to you. Police and prosecutors can and will investigate, and a grand jury may be involved.
So it’s more that an act of self-defense may be excused under a Stand Your Ground law, which you may have to prove in court.
One thing that might torpedo a stand your ground claim?
Posting on Facebook how you wanted to kill protestors. Pictures of Punisher skulls on stuff. Saying things like how a local burglar should have been shot to death instead of merely arrested. It establishes that you have a lesser respect for human life than others, violent tendencies or something to that effect.
Social media can also be used to establish prejudice as a motive for violence.
Consider 2017’s Jeremy Christian case from Portland, Ore.
In 2017, Jeremy Christian boarded public transportation and began shouting racial epithets at two teenage girls, both of color and one – at the time – wearing a hijab, in accordance with her religious practices as a Muslim.
Eventually some passengers tired of his behavior and tried to convince him to pipe down. Christian was not persuaded to do so, a scuffle broke out and Christian produced a knife, stabbing three people, two of whom died.
Christian’s social media activity, including racist sentiments, were part of the evidence presented at trial.
Christian was convicted in 2019 of two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, among other charges, and sentenced in February of 2020, according to KOMO News, to two sentences of life without parole.
At the time of this writing, one Jake Gardner is facing multiple charges, according to WXXI News, for the shooting death of James Scurlock, which occurred on May 30 in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gardner has been charged with manslaughter, use of a firearm in a felony, attempted first-degree assault and making terroristic threats.
Scurlock was participating in protests after the death of George Floyd, which went by Gardner’s bar in Omaha. Gardner was guarding the bar, and was armed with a pistol, for which his carry permit was expired, but nevermind, when the two began arguing.
Eventually, a scuffle broke out and Gardner wound up on the ground, with Scurlock on his back. He drew his pistol, fired at least one “warning shot,” and then shot Scurlock, killing him.
Initially, authorities approached the case as an instance of self-defense, but eyewitness testimony and Gardner’s Facebook posts, which included talking about a “military-style firewatch” prompted the case to be submitted to a grand jury.
Eyewitnesses reported Gardner threatened to shoot Scurlock, despite not being threatened with deadly force himself. Posting about a “firewatch” certainly wouldn’t not help, as it suggests being prepared for – or even possibly wanting to – use of force.
The point here?
What you post in Facebook echoes in eternity. Even if it gets deleted; anything you post or direct message to anyone creates a permanent electronic record of it and authorities can and will subpoena them if they feel it warranted.
Point being, that if you’re running your mouth online about how you’ll do this or that, or this or that group of people deserve it – it can come up in court if you get yourself into a legal situation.
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Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.