GHayesby Gila Hayes

Sometimes questions from folks who are interested in Network membership benefits start such an interesting discussion that it is useful to share it with readers of this journal.

Earlier this month a non-member emailed to ask, “If I remember correctly, the website states that benefits aren’t available if there are any other criminal weapons charges in addition to the underlying charge related to the self-defense claim. [It reads] ‘I understand that any grant of benefits is limited to lawful acts of self defense with no additional criminal charges (unlawful possession of concealed handgun, for example) associated with the incident.’

“If that is true, an over zealous, gun despising prosecutor could strip a member of their benefits by including a secondary weapons possession charge in addition to the underlying assault/homicide charge. The possession charge would only need to present a question of fact for the jury in order to avoid dismissal.

“Is that correct?

“If so, members would be rarely able to access benefits for most prosecutions since the prosecutor would most likely include an unlawful weapons possession charge in addition to the underlying assault/homicide.” –Brian C.

Good question, right? Is the Network set up to weasel out of requests to support members after self defense? I answered–

No, sir, while a prosecutor may “load up” the charges, it is not unduly difficult for the member’s attorney to show the Network leadership and advisory board which charges are spurious and which, if any, result from a genuine violation of the law.

Timing also bears on the answer to your question: there are several stages during which the Network pays legal expenses on behalf of a member. The first funding is paid to the member’s attorney ASAP after use of force in self defense. At that point on the time line, the prosecutor has in all likelihood not even made a charging decision, but we are in communication with the member’s attorney to determine what charges are likely so we can send that attorney a deposit against attorney fees of up to $10,000 to advise the member during questioning, keep the media at bay, when possible work with the prosecutor or district attorney to show why the member’s actions were justifiable self defense and done legally, and if it seems wise, pay a private investigator to go out to the scene of the attack against our member to tie down what really happened. That is the initial stage.

If criminal charges are filed, then the member and his or her attorney bring the discovery (facts of the case) back to the Network and our advisory board, where once again, we work with the member’s attorney to determine what is needed to put on a vigorous defense of the member’s self defense use of force. Those expenses, in addition to the attorney’s bills, will almost certainly include paying an expert witness to a) help the attorney understand key points in crafting the member’s defense and b) testify at trial to help the jury understand the necessity of the member’s use of force. If needed, the Network could also fund the involvement of a second attorney, one with experience defending cases in which parallel issues were argued. Funding decisions at this point on the time line may arise as much as six, eight, twelve months after the actual incident, and as the case works its way toward trial. Furthermore, it is conceivable that additional funding requests could be brought to us for consideration before the case is tried. So long as the facts continue to support a story of a Network member legally using force in self defense, we continue to extend assistance–up to half of the balance in the Network’s Legal Defense Fund–to defray these legal expenses.

A third possible funding request could arise if a civil complaint for damages is made, and a fourth, even, if an appeal of an unjust decision was needed.

In funding a member’s legal defense, we must determine that the use of force was undertaken in self defense and that it was accomplished in compliance with the law. For example, defending yourself using a gun that is illegal in your jurisdiction or carrying a concealed handgun in a state for which you do not have the concealed weapon permit are violations of the law that will greatly complicate the defense claim (running up the attorney’s bills and making a good outcome in court much more difficult to attain), so the Network would need to deny requests to pay legal expenses from an armed citizen who behaved as if he/she was above the law.

Think this through! If the Network paid the expenses of defending violations of the law, we would literally be encouraging people to break the law. In some circumstances that is called suborning (defined as “incite to commit a crime or an evil deed”) and that can be a crime in and of its self. Obviously, if the Network wants to continue in operation to support our members after use of force in self defense, as we have been privileged to do in 12 instances over the past nine years, we must avoid committing that violation.

With a deep sigh, I signed off at that point, and wondered as the week went by whether my correspondent had been more interested in an argument than in Network membership protections, as I did not ever hear from him again. That’s too bad, because the Network is specifically formed on a business model that lets us extend the most support right away and at the time when it is needed, so it is disturbing to be accused of putting impediments in the way of helping members after self defense.

We currently have twelve case files tucked away in a secured file drawer with the details of payments to members’ attorneys, along with a rudimentary outline of what happened to the member. We have not exploited those members to “prove” to people like my correspondent that the Network is quick to pay attorney fees on behalf of the member who uses force in self defense.

One case is still in litigation, so utter silence is the watchword in that situation. Of the other eleven, the temptation to chase the member down and get their story has never appealed to me, nor have I been willing to countenance, as one correspondent repeatedly demanded, sharing with callers names and contact information for members who had received Network membership benefits. In the members receiving support, I see a man or woman who faced death or serious physical injury at the hands of a furious assailant. Far be it from me to scratch the scab off healing wounds to make more membership sales! To do so opens up the risk of publicizing incomplete or inaccurate remembrances, offering facts or even stating suppositions all of which might be resurrected in a civil law suit for damages, or if the prosecutor or district attorney had originally decided not to charge the member with crime, now reads statements attributed to the member and decides there is still time to pursue an indictment or starts looking for a loophole through which the time lines for filing charges can be set aside. At a minimum, publicly revealing those details could affect access to employment and create other quality of life issues. It’s just not necessary!

The Network does not serve existing members in order satisfy drooling curiosity seekers; we assist members because that is our mission, and the very reason the Network was created.

The Network is growing strongly under our stewardship, so it appears that our philosophy of putting the needs of each individual member first is working well. We’ll continue on this path.

Click here to return to March 2016 Journal to read more.