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Timothy A. Forshey

It should come as no surprise that there are a lot (way too many by a factor of ten, perhaps?) of attorneys out there, many of whom would be delighted to handle your case, should the unfortunate need ever arise. What factors should you consider when deciding which shark to feed? There is a litany of qualifications to examine (such as reputation, length of practice, etc.) and those items are available from multiple other sources. If your problem involves your use or threatened use of a firearm, however, there are a few specialized concerns you might be wise to consider as well.

Most criminal defense attorneys will be (hopefully) very capable and seasoned, but, unfortunately, many of them are not particularly aware of self-defense justification concepts. It is simply an issue that they have dealt with infrequently. Even fewer of these attorneys are actual devoted shooters, and an even more limited sub-set are students of shooting—actively taking/teaching classes related to shooting, reloading, studying ballistics, competing in matches, etc. There are several reasons that this last sub-group may be the one from which you wish to choose a lawyer.

As an example, I recently handled a case for a client who was intoxicated and, late at night, lamenting the recent death of his girlfriend, discharged four rounds “into the desert.” While I cannot attest to the usefulness of this activity as a method to reduce grief, it certainly increases your likelihood of arrest—especially if one of the rounds goes through the closed window of your neighbor’s occupied home. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Despite that lucky break, my client was charged with endangerment, one of the felonies in the least severe category in Arizona (as, frankly, he should have been) as well as discharging a firearm at an occupied structure—one of the most severe. There are approximately ten years of prison time separating the two charges.

When I visited the scene of the shooting, I was able to determine, from the police report’s diagram showing the location of the spent brass at the scene on the night in question, the relative direction that the four rounds were likely fired. That general direction was not anywhere near in line with the neighbor’s property—just as my client claimed.

A close inspection of the scene downrange from where he claimed revealed a large rock with a clear bullet strike on its angled face. Upon return to the scene with our properly credentialed firearms expert, through the use of trajectory studies (utilizing lasers and laser rangefinders coupled with ballistic charts), photographs of the scene, google earth photos showing distances and angles between the various buildings and crime scene photos showing the oddly shaped hole in the neighbor’s window, we were able to present a scientific explanation for the fact that only one of the four fired rounds struck the neighbor’s house—it was a ricochet.

This acted to remove mens rea from the act of shooting at the house, thereby rendering it accidental rather than an intentional act. Our expert’s report prompted the state to drop the more serious of the charges, which would have required approximately a decade in prison.

My client subsequently pled guilty to endangerment and was sentenced to probation rather than prison.

Knowledge of, and access to, information particular to firearms, ammunition and ballistics helped to see that justice was done. My client did a stupid thing, which deserved punishment. My job was to make sure that punishment was appropriate–ten years in prison clearly was not.

Nice to know all of that “wasted time and money” (to quote my wife) comes in handy sometimes.


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