Every now and then my wife says something so important, that I listen. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen all the time (my fault, not hers), but when it does, I take notice.
Yesterday we were at Gander Mountain, and they had their full complement of NRA shirts on display. One featured a big eagle with its wings spread and something like “You keep your beliefs, we’ll keep our guns.” It was an awesome shirt, and it was in my size.
“I’d really like to have that shirt,” I said.
My wife’s right eyebrow went up. Loosely translated this means “are you out of your mind?”
“I love the look on the eagle’s face,” I said.
The look intensified. Finally my lovely wife, who does vinyl heat press for tee shirts, said “I can make you one that’s more to the point.”
“Really? You’d do that?”
“Sure,” she said. “And it will say “SHOOT ME FIRST!”
I put the tee shirt down.
No, not because I thought someone might actually shoot me first, although I concede that she has a very good point there, too. But because of how that shirt would play out at a trial if I ever had to defend myself for stopping a threat.
“You were on your way home and stopped for gas,” the Prosecutor says.
“Yes,” you say.
“Tell our jury how you were dressed.”
“Jeans, tee shirt, tennis shoes.”
“And, what did the tee shirt say?”
“It said [fill in the blank here with any of those witty tee-shirts]”
“So anyone seeing that shirt would know you were carrying, and that you were a potential threat to their life?”
“It doesn’t say I’m carrying, it says…”
“I’ll withdraw the question [because the question, not the answer, was the point he was making to the jury]. So, it’s true then that Mr. Doe might have thought you were a threat?”
In some states it wouldn’t matter if Doe was a three time loser with a rap sheet ten miles long. That would never be admissible in court. What would be admissible would be the fact of a force on force encounter where you:
- Decided to play Cop.
- Decided to play God.
- Decided you needed to find out what it was like to kill.
- Decided to end another human life.
Pick any of the answers above. No matter what is said, this is what the jury will hear: You are dangerous.
Throw in any ambiguity in the situation, and the tee shirt reveals to everyone the fact that you are, in fact, a reckless mercenary out for street justice trying to be the next Charles Bronson in Death Wish. As we tell clients all the time, the question is not what happened, the question is what can we prove happened? Those are never the same question, because every sharing of information involves ambiguities, and ambiguities tend to be interpreted based on the mindset of the jurors. So prosecutors with lots of women on the jury panel ask things like “Did you be sure there were no children around before you starting blasting away?”
The question is argumentative and would draw an objection, which would just call the jury’s attention to it all the more. And the women might think, yeah, my kid could have been out there. If the jury contains a few evangelicals you might her the prosecutor as “haven’t you ever heard of turning the other cheek?” It doesn’t matter if you did or did not, because it’s the question, not the answer that counts. The idea is to plant in the jury’s mind the idea that you are a dangerous psychopath because who else would wear a shirt advertising their possession of a deadly weapon. You are the problem (not the guy who was actually committing a crime).
You can never be sure if you will be the one guy the prosecutor decides to make an example of. And if you decide to wear shirts with messages the looney left will feel threaten their safe spaces, you could well find yourself in an orange jumpsuit with a public defender who has always wanted to defend an innocent person.
Here’s my advice. Low key your advocacy. If you ever have to defend your life, your words should not be the prosecutor’s best weapons.