The 911 Call: Key Tactics for a Legally-Sound Self-Defense Strategy
I was talking recently with Mark Swinson, the proprietor (along with Blenda Sing) of Armed Citizens of Georgia Firearms Training, and he pointed out that I'd left a surprising gap in "The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition. Specifically, he noted that although I do speak in the book about tactics for interacting with responding officers in the immediate aftermath of a use of force incident, I neglected to talk about similar tactics in the particular context of the 911 call.
As Mark quite correctly pointed out, that 911 call will naturally be recorded and will almost certainly be admitted at trial. It therefore represents a rather unique opportunity for you to get your first-person evidence (observations, rationale for your use of force, etc.) into the evidentiary record and in front of the jury without the necessity of your taking the stand and subjecting yourself to cross-examination.
After I finished kicking myself in the pants for neglecting this important content in the book, it was immediately obvious that the subject of the 911 call warranted a blog post to fill the gap. Within moments it also became obvious that Mark, and not my self, ought to be the author of that blog post. So, in a Law of Self Defense first-time event, we present below a guest-blog post:
First Contact with Authorities
After a self-defense shooting, after you scan and assess for other or continuing threats, you must yell "SOMEBODY CALL THE POLICE!!!" We know "bad guys" would not say this and will identify you to witnesses as the "good guy". Now you must immediately call 911 yourself and give pertinent and specific information to the dispatcher that WILL BE RECORDED AS EVIDENCE. All of these actions will strongly support your "consciousness of innocence".
1. Give your full name. 2. BRIEFLY describe the encounter (i.e. "two men attacked me and I unfortunately had to use my firearm in defense") 3. Give your location. 4. Say "Send police AND an ambulance." This shows your humanity and absence of malice even with respect to your attackers. 5. Describe your appearance so officers that arrive will know YOU, the caller, are the victim. 6. Tell the dispatcher "I must go now to keep the area safe. The line will remain open". 7. Keep 911 on the line. Put your phone down near you so 911 will hear any further action or commands you may need to issue to secure the scene. Do NOT approach the assailant. STAY AWARE!!
This script should be practiced frequently until it is committed to memory.
--Mark Swinson, Armed Citizens of Georgia Firearms Training
I concur with each of Mark's points above, and in particular his emphasis on establishing a compelling narrative of "consciousness of innocence" by calling for others to phone the police, by phoning the police yourself, by requesting an ambulance for the "victims" (aka the "attackers"). Of course, me being me, I have my own two cents to add on a couple of Mark's points:
With respect to point (5) about describing your appearance so the responding officers will know it was you who called 911, I would only add (as I'm sure Mark does in his class) that it is also important to be prepared for the possibility that this information may have been miscommunicated by the dispatcher to the responding officers. It's even possible that the responding officers have been led to believe that the description they were provided is of some lunatic with a gun shooting people. Conduct yourself appropriately--meaning in a completely and obviously non-threatening and compliant manner--when the responding officers arrive.
With respect to point (7) about leaving the phone connected to dispatch and in a position to continue to record audio at the scene (via the 911 recording), I would add that it may be necessary for purposes of safety for you to vacate the scene (e.g., if an angry crowd of the attacker's friends and neighbors begins to accumulate). Legitimate safety concerns are a perfectly good reason to vacate the scene, but should this prove necessary or even just prudent make sure that you maintain your communications with dispatch and inform them of the reasons for your leaving the scene as well as your new location. It is essential that your leaving the scene for purposes of safety cannot be twisted by an aggressive prosecutor into an argument of "flight from the scene", a classic "red flag" for consciousness of guilt.
Also with respect to (7), Mark urges that you not approach the "victim." This is perfectly sensible tactical advice. Keep in mind, however, that the prosecutor will almost certainly seek to argue that you failed in your duty to provide first aid assistance to the "victim" (a duty that arguably arose because it was you who caused the injury). It would be useful in countering such an argument if the 911 recording included a statement by you to the effect that you don't know how badly the "victim" is injured, and that you are afraid he may again try to harm or kill you if you approach too closely, followed by a repeat of your urgent request that an ambulance be sent to the scene.
Thanks to Mark for his insightful observation of the absence of that important 911 call information from "The Law of Self Defense," and his willingness to draw from his own firearms training courses the content he's shared with us here. Any of you living in the greater Snellville, GA area (about 35 minutes east of Atlanta) would do well to consider Armed Citizens of Georgia Firearms Training for your self-defense instruction needs.
Andrew is currently in the process of planning his Fall 2013 Seminars. Please see Law of Self Defense Seminars/Webinars to get more information.
"The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition," covers the current state of self-defense law in all 50 states. We've heard from many of you, however, that you'd like to dive even deeper into the self-defense law of your particular state--to have on hand the full-text of every self-defense statute, jury instruction, and even the full-text of the most important and controlling self-defense court decisions. Fitting 50-states worth of level of comprehensive detail would result in a book that weighs 500 lbs, which is why we didn't take that approach in "The Law of Self Defense." Due to the great demand for this further detail, however, we have begun rolling out a series of State-Specific Supplements that do provide exactly such comprehensive coverage of each particular state's self-defense law. Right now these are available on a pre-publication basis at a 38% discount, with delivery of each to occur over the next 2-3 months--pre-publication customers will, as always, receive their books first, with shipment to the general public not beginning until all pre-publication customers have first been sent their books. To see the five states we are starting with, vote for other states to be covered, or to place your pre-publication order, click here: State-Specific Supplements.
About Andrew F. Branca
Andrew is an Massachusetts lawyer in his third decade of practice and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense,, 2nd Edition" now available at www.lawofselfdefense.com and also at Amazon.com as either a hardcopy or in Kindle version.
He is also an attorney-member of the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network, a Guest Instructor at the Sig Sauer Academy, an NRA Life-member and Certified NRA Instructor, and an IDPA Charter/Life member (IDPA #13) and Master-class IDPA competitor in CDP and SSP.