What George Zimmerman can teach us about legal defense

by Sean Maloney, Defense Attorney

If you learn just one thing about armed self defense from the trial of George Zimmerman, it is this ...

CONSULT AN ATTORNEY IMMEDIATELY!

Subjecting yourself to a police investigation, interrogation from multiple officers, and a reenactment of the incident on-camera without representation as Zimmerman did is nothing short of insane. And it could be a death sentence, or in this case a potential sentence of life in prison.

I always give this advice to my clients: there is nothing you can say to the police post-shooting to keep from going to jail or to win your case. So vocalize your 5th Amendment Right to remain silent and SHUT UP! But, if you choose not to take my advice, remember, there are thousands of things you can say that could land you in prison.

I am well aware of the pressure, the guilt, and the suspicion police officers may lay on you to prevent you from exercising your civil right against self-incrimination. Such as ...

"If you’re innocent, you have nothing to hide, and everything will turn out fine."

"We can do this two ways. The hard way is you refuse to talk, and based on what I have now, I will arrest you and figure it out at the jail. The easy way is you answer my questions now and sleep in your own bed tonight."

"Only the guilty ask for an Attorney. You're not guilty are you? I didn’t think so. Just answer a few questions so I can convince my Sergeant, and we can get this over with."

"I don’t think you did anything wrong. It's just that paperwork is the worst part of my job. So help me get enough answers to fill out some forms and then we can both get this done."

Remember, just because the investigating officer says you did nothing wrong, doesn’t mean that's what he really thinks. And even if he does, the Prosecutor may not agree. The Prosecutor can still charge you and try to send you to jail.

Let's walk though this.

Imagine you’re at home, someone breaks in, threatens you, and you're forced to use your firearm in self defense. The moment the police arrive, your home becomes a crime scene. Declare yourself as the resident and say you were in fear for your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Point out your attacker and any weapons and witnesses. Tell the officers you will sign a criminal complaint. Then vocalize your 5th Amendment right to remain silent and that you have nothing more to say until you speak to your Attorney and have had time to compose yourself. Also vocalize that you do not consent to a search of your home, vehicle, and other structures on your property.

Or, if you’re a member of Second Call Defense, simply call the member-only 24/7 Emergency Legal Hotline, hand the phone to the police, and let the experienced attorney who answers vocalize your 5th Amendment rights on your behalf.

Keep in mind that some police officers may not take "no" for an answer. If the situation allows, and you feel you need to, excuse yourself to another part of your home while they investigate. Try calming yourself with deep, slow 4-square breathing. It can help to go outside for some fresh air.

If a police officer tells you to stay put or says that you can’t go outside, ask if you are being detained. If the police officer says "no," then go. However, if the officer says you are being detained, calmly ask what you are being charged with. At this point, do not speak to a police officer without your lawyer present other than to vocalize that you are exercising your 5th Amendment right to remain silent, and that you request to speak with an attorney.

Don't argue your case. Don't be disrespectful. This isn't the time to give authorities a lecture. Mentally prepare yourself to spend some time in jail. Just suck it up and let it happen. Things will change the moment your attorney arrives. Let him make the arguments and fight on your behalf.

Imagine that George Zimmerman simply asserted his 5th Amendment right to remain silent and informed investigators he had nothing to say until he spoke to an attorney. Imagine he has taken time to calm down and collect his thoughts before making a statement.

No hours of recorded interrogations. No video reenactment at the crime scene. No ill-advised statements to the media. No conversations with neighbors, friends, and relatives.

There would have been no verbal ammunition for prosecutors to fire back at him at trial. And likely, there would have been no prosecution. You would have never heard the name George Zimmerman.