This “Case of the Week” involves a shooting death in Oconee County, GA one that on the surface has the trappings of self-defense. The purported defender promptly shredded those trappings from the first moment he spoke with law enforcement.

In other words, this is a classic example of how not to interact with police in the aftermath of a use-of-force event.

In our Law of Self Defense LEVEL 1 Core Class we talk at length, almost an hour, about the four strategies for interacting with the police.

Just Walk Away: Guts Any Claim of Self-Defense

First, don’t interact with police at all, just walk away. There are several problems with this approach. If your use of force was legitimate self-defense, you have a moral obligation to have your actions examined for consistency with the law. Also, if you just walk away, you’ve profoundly undermined any claim of self-defense you might wish to make in the future—it will look like you “ran away.” Finally, walking away doesn’t mean you won’t be identified and forced to interact. Cameras and witnesses are everywhere, including the camera-equipped smartphones that are ubiquitous today.

“Say Nothing!”: Silence MAY Be Used Against You

Then there’s the “say nothing to the police” approach, that so many advocate. There are some obvious logical faults in the “say nothing” approach. Does “say nothing” mean you’re not going to call 911? Because calling 911 is saying something to the police. And if you’re not going to call 911, eventually you’re going to walk away from the scene, and then you’re actually adopting the “flee the scene” strategy.

There are also legal faults in the “say nothing” approach, because contrary to common belief your silence at the scene can be used against you in court as circumstantial evidence of guilt, according to the Supreme Court, at least prior to you either being Mirandized or asserting your right to silence. Some states do have their own prohibition on the use of such silence in court, but unless you know whether YOUR state does you have no idea whether such silence can be used in court as circumstantial evidence of guilt.

That said, if you’re an actual criminal, or if you’re a person who has not thought through in any detail, the “say nothing” approach may be your best bet, despite it’s shortcomings.

“Say Little Approach”: Professional, but Not For Everyone

The third approach is the “say little approach.” Here you limit your communications with police to a few very specific pieces of information. The goal here is to not leave value on the table in terms of your prospective legal defense by simply saying nothing, while at the same time not putting yourself in a position where you might say something incriminating that can be used against you.

This is what I consider the “professional approach” for people who have considered their prospective interaction with the police carefully and who are confident how they will conduct themselves under the stress of having survived a life-threatening attack. It is not, however, the optimal approach for everybody, especially not for people who might slip into the fourth approach. This is the approach we cover in the most detail in our Law of Self Defense LEVEL 1 Class.

“Blather Approach”: Almost Certain to Cause Trouble

That fourth approach is what I call the “blather approach.” This is where the defender decides to explain the entirety of the situation to the responding officers, in every detail—details which they will invariably have gotten wrong, simply because of the way the human brain captures, stores, and recalls information under stress. This is why police officers involved in a use-of-force event are given 24 or 48 or 72 hours after a use-of-force event to make a statement, so their brains flooded with adrenaline and other stress chemicals can settle down to a more normal state of function. Naturally, I never recommend the “blather” approach.

“Lie to the Police Approach”: Oofah

In this “Case of the Week” we see a fifth approach I don’t really discuss in class, except to tell students “Don’t do this!” It’s a kind of “self-destruct” approach that combines the “blather approach” with consciousness of guilt evidence. It involves blathering to the officers, and having that blathering consist of demonstrable lies.

In this case, the Defendant initially told 911 that he’d shot an intruder. Then he told responding deputies that the man he shot was a stranger to him. He also shared many other details, many of which turned out to be incorrect.

In fact, the Victim was a recent acquaintance of the Defendant whom the Defendant had invited to come visit. They’d engaged in a night of heavy drinking, which concluded in the Defendant hitting the Victim in the head with a popcorn kettle hard enough to drench it in the Victim’s blood. There was a blood trail from that initial point of attack to where the Victim was found 20 feet away behind a sofa, where he suffered a single gunshot wound to the face. The Defendant, in contrast had only minor injuries, sufficient to indicate a possible fight between the two men.

The Defendant now claims he woke up to the Victim choking him. Unable to breathe, and fighting for his life, he shot the Victim in self-defense. He has no explanation for the popcorn kettle, nor can he remember how he retrieved his gun, a lack of memory he blames on being intoxicated.

Folks, that’s not a great self-defense narrative under any circumstances. When combined with his initial tale of having shot an intruder, a stranger, in his home, however, it’s a self-defense narrative that holds no water whatever.

Whatever Strategy You Choose, Don’t Lie!

Whatever strategy you choose in terms of interacting with the police is a decision only you can make. But combine any strategy with lying to the police and you’ve sunk any prospect you might have had for a viable self-defense claim.

–Andrew

Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC

Learn more about self-defense law from Attorney Andrew F. Branca and Law of Self Defense LLC by visiting the Law of Self Defense Patreon page for both free and paid-access content, and by viewing his free weekly Law of Self Defense Show.

[Featured image is a screen capture of an video interview of Defendant Chad Haufler.]