Massad Ayoob: Don’t Leave the Scene After a Self Defense Shooting

How many of us understand how to navigate the legalities of what to do if we are involved in a self defense shooting? For many, the actual physical confrontation is the least of our worries; the real hell begins when we find ourselves embroiled in the legal/court system. All we need to do to see this is to turn on the evening news, which is filled with all manner of confrontations, murders, and mayhem. Lawyers do not work cheaply, either; expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars (at the very least), if not over a hundred thousand, if we are forced to pull the trigger to defend life and limb. As I always tell people, if you can avoid pulling that trigger in any way possible, do so!!!

For 29 years, I worked in Corrections at the state level in a few correctional institutions, which brought me into contact with every level of the legal profession, from inmates to investigators, to judges and lawyers. I read the files of individuals who, in my opinion, should never have been locked up in prison because the information in front of me told me that they’d acted within the law. And yet, there they were, doing time in prison.

Any time you become involved in the legal system, you are rolling the dice. I hate to say that, but it is how I see things. The key often becomes how you and your legal team can articulate your self defense case. I’ve heard many people say, “I’d rather be tried by twelve than carried by six.” That sounds witty and brave, but let me tell you…those folks have never spent any time in prison. I have. And I’m here to tell you that prison is a hell beyond which most people can even begin to fathom.

inside of a prison
This is where you do not want to end up — in prison!

You’ll want to listen to Massad Ayoob’s opinions and experience.

Join Massad Ayoob as he navigates the legalities of what to do if we are involved in a self defense shooting

Ayoob opens with, “You’ll hear people say, ‘If you’ve been involved in a shooting, look both ways for witnesses, and then leave. And it’ll save you all that legal aftermath.’ The prisons are full of people who looked both ways for witnesses, and didn’t see them until they appeared at trial to testify against them.”

“There’s an ancient principle in ethics called ‘Flight Equals Guilt,’ and you’ll find that it runs through the law as well.”

He then quotes the Bible, Proverbs 28:1 says, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous man stands his ground as bold as a lion.”

The assumption of the law is that if you’ve done the right thing, you’ll stand your ground to explain yourself. If you flee the scene, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re guilty, but it generally means the courts will allow the jury to consider that you’re left out of what’s called “Consciousness of Guilt”, and that can be crushing.

This is where the real battle is often fought. The courtroom can be a brutal place!

Example Cases

Here’s an example of a self defense case that happened (FL vs. Ronald Robbins): a former cop was out, running an errand at night armed with an NAA .22LR revolver and had a folding knife clipped to the front of his waistband. Thinking he’d just be out for a few minutes, he left his cell phone at home. He got into a fight with a street thug, who grabbed the knife from his waistband and opened it. Robbins shot the thug dead. Having no way to call for help, he was driving to a police station when he was stopped by the police and arrested at gunpoint. He explained that he didn’t have a phone and couldn’t call 911, nor did he have a 2-way radio. No one believed him. He ended up convicted of manslaughter and received a very heavy sentence.

The next self defense case (CA vs. Herman Kreutzer) began with a man’s daughter who was married to an abusive husband. She filed for divorce and came home to live with her dad (Kreutzer). The abusive son-in-law came to the home, demanding to take the man’s daughter with him. Dad refused to let that happen and stood in the way. The son-in-law attacked him and tried to gouge his eyes out of his head during the assault. Dad managed to bite one of the son-in-law’s fingers off, and then called the police. He and his daughter obtained a restraining order against the son-in-law, and they figured that would keep him away in the future.

A few days later, the son-in-law showed up again on dad’s property with a hand bandaged up and an arm in a sling, claiming to have a gun hidden in the sling, stating that he was going to kill dad. Dad, fearing something like this might happen, was carrying a .38 caliber revolver. He shot the son-in-law, who fell to the ground and his last words were, “I guess I made a mistake.” The final words that the son-in-law heard were Dad saying, “You’re goddamn right!”

Dad panicked and moved the body, hiding it. He then threw the handgun into the ocean. It turns out that the son-in-law had been bluffing; he had no gun. Dad fled to Mexico. When he was questioned about the body on his property, Dad claimed he had no idea about it. Consequently, Dad was convicted of murder and sent away for a very long time.

What To Do If You’re Involved in a Self Defense Shooting

The law has two categories: Victim and Perpetrator. In the above cases, both guys were initially the victim, but in fleeing the scene, they created an aura of guilt that their defense could not surmount.

Do not flee!

Be the Victim/Complainant. It’s a rush to the telephone. The first person to call in is recorded by the Justice System as the complainant. The person who doesn’t becomes the suspect and could be convicted as the perpetrator. If you are in an area with no cell phone coverage, still make that call because your phone will record that you made the attempt, and the time that you made it. If you’re accused of fleeing, you’ll have a record that you attempted to get help, which is not the act of a guilty criminal.

Any time you carry a gun, carry a cell phone. Look at the cell phone as the analog to a policeman’s portable radio/emergency communications equipment. Immediately call in and say that there has been a shooting, request police and EMS.

Remember, when you hear someone say, “Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up,”, there are often unseen witnesses. Sound travels very far, so leaving the scene in the hope that there are no witnesses is futile.

There are rare occasions when you may need to flee…

…such as multiple opponents, in which the danger is ongoing (possibly a mob/riot situation). If you must leave, make sure you’re yelling, “I AM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE! SOMEONE CALL AN AMBULANCE, I’M GOING FOR AN AMBULANCE!”

What are everywhere these days? That’s right, cameras. Whether they are mounted on a building, vehicle, or cell phone cameras, there’s an excellent chance that you are being filmed. The more you can indicate that you’re trying to summon help, the better. Remember, we are trying to safeguard our safety and our life, not necessarily kill a person. So summoning an ambulance for the shooting victim will help portray you as a Good Guy in the eyes of the law.


If you are heading to the police station and you have that location entered into as your GPS destination, your story will be more believable. Had Robbins been able to do this, or make a phone call, his story might have had more strength. This could mean the difference between freedom and prison.

 Massad Ayoob has decades of experience in the courtoom. Here he talks about the legalities of what to do in the case of a self defense shooting
Massad Ayoob has decades of experience in the courtroom.

Always think very carefully before you pull that trigger. The decision that you make in fractions of a section is going to be scrutinized for days, weeks, or even months.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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