The right to defend oneself from unlawful attack is guaranteed in each of the 50 United States. However, circumstances justifying the use of force against another person can be difficult to prove after the fact, especially when such force rises to the level of deadly force. The killing of a person is a homicide, and without justification, criminal charges follow. While the average, well-adjusted citizen wishes never to be put in a situation where it is necessary to defend life and limb with deadly force, sometimes people are thrust in such a situation, and must choose between taking defensive action and suffering imminent death or great bodily harm. Actions taken immediately after the encounter can set the stage for exoneration or create suspicion of non-justifiability.

The First Moments After A Deadly Encounter

It is important to understand that one who uses deadly force to defend life or limb from an unlawful deadly attack is a victim and the attacker, who dies as a result, is an offender. Upon using deadly force to defend oneself or another from an unlawful deadly attack, the victim should, as soon as it is safe to do so, call 911 and request police assistance as well as an ambulance for both the offender and himself. The victim should also remain at the scene, and not leave, except if the area becomes unsafe, as if, for example, civil unrest follows and the victim perceives a real threat of retaliation from others at the scene. Leaving the scene, especially with urgency, can create the perception of guilt. If the victim must leave for reasons of safety, those reasons should be articulated to 911 operators, but statements should be limited to only identifying oneself, the fact that an encounter took place, that the parties involved require medical attention, and that the area is unsafe and the victim will seek safety nearby.

It may seem illogical to call an ambulance for one who is already deceased, but a person cannot be declared dead except by a licensed medical professional, and the victim who defended himself is not always in a position to make that determination. Also, requesting medical assistance for the offender helps to establish a lack of malice with regard to the offender’s death. Regardless of methods used, whether bare hand techniques or use of a firearm, the lawful citizen who uses deadly force in response to a deadly attack does so to stop the attack, not to kill the offender.

Despite the fact that the victim might feel perfectly well, the stress of such a grave situation can raise the blood pressure to dangerous levels and create risk of stroke. The victim should immediately go to an emergency room for evaluation no matter how well he feels.

Give No Statement For 24 To 48 Hours

The victim should give no statement to police regarding the actions taken in the encounter for 24 to 48 hours. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees this right to silence, and it should be invoked, even if held in jail. The reason for this is not that the victim needs to resist police investigation, to coordinate testimony with others involved, or to get advice from an attorney first (although consulting with an attorney is a great idea in any case before giving statements.)

The reason is that modern medicine, along with studies conducted by law enforcement professionals, has proven that when a person undergoes a highly stressful situation, such as a deadly encounter, that person is very likely to forget key portions of the events. Testimony, given under such circumstances, is unreliable, and through no fault of his own, the victim would likely give flawed testimony. Once a statement is made, divergence, including changes or addition of events in subsequent statements, establishes a perceived lack of credibility. In other words, one who gives two different stories is regarded as a liar. The average person will be unable to give an accurate statement for approximately one to two sleep cycles after the event that created the stress, translating to a period of 24 to 48 hours.

This same principle is applied by modern police investigators of sexual assault, who will take no statement from the victim until this stress period has passed.

Get Legal Help

If you or a loved one has been involved in a deadly encounter and fought back to survive, protect your rights. Charges can be brought at any time subsequent to such actions. Contact the criminal defense attorneys at The Nahajski Firm at (206) 621-0500 for a free and confidential initial consultation.