The sad story of Jay Rodney Lewis

We all like to think that justice isn't about money. But the fact is that if you defend yourself with a firearm and can't afford basics like legal representation or bail, the consequences can be devastating.

That's what happened to Jay Rodney Lewis. He didn't have enough money to hire a lawyer or pay bail and it destroyed him.

Lewis is a Kansas native who moved to West Des Moines, Iowa for a new job. A former security guard and law enforcement officer, Lewis is also a hunter and gun collector with a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

His troubles began one night as he was driving home and had a traffic accident with another man and a car full of his buddies. As Lewis was checking his car for damage, the angry felon and one of his friends came at him.

Lewis called 911. You could hear him telling the two "just stay where you are. Get back! Get back! I’m going to start shooting!" Then, "Get away from me. Get away from me!" Bang.

The evidence seemed overwhelming that it was self defense. The other driver was a felon with multiple convictions and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.189 when tested at the hospital that night. But Des Moines police arrested Lewis for failing to back off and avoid the gunplay. He was charged with two counts of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and one of going armed with intent.

The initial bail asked Lewis to post $225,000 cash. Unfortunately, Lewis earned only $32,359 a year and just didn’t have the money. Plus because he couldn't afford a good lawyer, he relied on a public defender. So he sat in jail.

Meanwhile, his apartment complex evicted him because of the arrest and posted a notice on Lewis' door, which he never saw because he was in jail. And since his relatives were in Kansas, no one could get his belongings. So the evicting deputy seized four handguns, three rifles, and a shotgun that had been left in the apartment. And all his clothing and furniture disappeared along with a laptop containing the only copy of his fourth novel (a western).

“That was several decades of my life that got flushed down the toilet,” Lewis said. “I had a beautiful flat-screen TV. It’s now in somebody else’s living room. ... For a while there, every time I turned around it was like, can it possibly get any worse?”

Prosecutors eventually dropped most of the charges. His trial on the sole remaining count, reckless use of a firearm causing injury, resulted in jurors finding that Lewis acted appropriately in defending himself. 

But Lewis' life had already been turned upside down. He spent 112 days in jail, lost his job and all his possessions, and found himself homeless and penniless. All because he couldn't afford a lawyer or bail.

It's a sad story, but not an unusual one. It happens all the time to decent men and women who use a firearm in self defense. Here's an account in the Des Moines Register.

If Lewis had been a member of Second Call Defense, things would have turned out very differently. He would have had up to $10,000 immediate cash for an attorney retainer, up to $50,000 to fund his criminal defense, immediate cash to pay for a bond up to $250,000, up to $500 a day compensation while in court, a Rapid Response Team to immediately come to his aid that night, and much more.