Paying off civil judgments can kill you. Two days ago, a friend of mine died from a massive coronary. His wife called me last Friday with the news.
A few years back, their Southern California neighborhood was victim to a rash of automobile break-ins. One evening, around 10-ish, he heard the familiar sound of a car window smashing.
He grabbed a pistol out of a lamp table drawer in the living room—he had several of them tucked in various drawers throughout the rest of the house.
He confronted the vandal in the drive way. The vandal turned and ran toward the street. My friend yelled for him to stop; he didn’t; and my friend fired a shot that hit him in back of his neck, killing him instantly.
The police hit him with a manslaughter charge that he somehow beat in criminal court—the vandal was unarmed, not so much as penknife. But he lost big time in civil court when the vandal’s family sued him.
The plaintiffs had accepted a structured settlement that he was paying off. But then he lost his job and defaulted on the structured settlement, causing big-time financial problems.
There is no question that police officers are authorized to use lethal force to protect themselves and others from harm by aggressors. And even though civilians have the same right, they had better be damn sure of what they’re doing.
As it is, every time some police officer uses lethal force in the line of duty, the usual do-gooders seem to come out of the woodwork claiming that the default mode for cops everywhere is shooting first and asking questions later.
But I beg to differ; the majority of this nation’s police officers are well-trained and exercise not only due diligence, but often great restraint when faced with the prospect of using lethal force.
And yes, there’s no denying the reality that every police force has its relative share of armed morons who’d rather hoard all the “fun” for themselves, even if it means a few “civvies” might die.
On the other hand, the numerical preponderance of rogue, Rambo-wannabe cops is minuscule compared to the number of civilian idiots treading water in in humanity’s vast “sea of stupid.” And their numbers seem to grow exponentially.
We read about these morons all too frequently; these are the ones who think they have an inalienable right to shoot others for such monumental egregiousness as calling them names and “stuff.”
Regardless, though, whenever it comes to the use of lethal force to protect themselves and others, civilians and police officers are subject to the same criminal laws.
And, as ALWAYS applied to the use of lethal force, police officers AND civilians must feel LEGALLY and MORALLY justified in applying it.
However, whenever either faction exercises this right, whether or not such justification existed at the time of their use becomes a matter of fact to be determined, first by a prosecutor and ultimately by a jury.
And it is at this point that the legal road forks at an acute angle, and with potentially dire consequences. The clear-cut justification cases do not generate the problems; it’s the “iffy” cases that always tie things up in legal knots.
But even in cases where it is justified, some prosecutors cannot resist the temptation to seize an occasion to notch tally marks in their respective win columns just to send a “message” to what they believe are gun-happy civilians and rogue cops suffering from the ravages of the “OK Corral Syndrome.”
That many of THESE cases SHOULD never have made it to trial is beside the point; the reality is that they DO. And, once juries become involved, things get all crap-shooty, leaving defendants’ fates almost entirely subject to whichever legal team is the most persuasive.
The research unmistakably shows that police officers are more likely than not to beat the criminal rap. But even if civilians do so as well, they’re likely to face a civil one to boot. And, this is the point at which civilian shooters part company with their police counterparts.
Police officers acting in the line of duty are protected by the legal principle of Qualified Immunity. If a “victim” sues them civilly, the state—or the federal government in the cases of federal officers—defends them at no personal expense.
But civilians are out of luck; no such immunity exists for them. And, even if they win in civil court, they lose financially! And while it’s bad enough when a defendant WINS in civil court, imagine the financial devastation wrought by a loss!