Need a legal opinion: headshots

Hi @Dawn, this came up in another thread and we’re interested in getting the legal eagles to weigh in…


In particular, the Riverside CA sheriff requires an “empty your magazine into the target with 2 to the body and one to the head” pattern as part of their CCW qualification shooting test. USCCA and other groups teach that headshots … particularly “Mozambique” techniques like that … are going to put you in legal jeopardy as they can be used as evidence of intent to kill rather than to stop the threat.
@wildrose suggested you might ask the legal folks to comment.
Perhaps that’s information that can be used to assist the sheriff in revising their practices… @BrophE knows the riverside sheriff.

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Thanks Zee, hopefully we’ll get some good responses.

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I’m in. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this.

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Thanks @Zee - as is said before I think this is a holdover from the previous Sheriff, the new Sheriff has been in office

Im not a lawyer, but the legal portion the lawyer prepared for the Mississippi course covers this. In Mississippi the method you used to commit homicide is not covered in the law, only the reason WHY you committed homicide, thus the “Defense for Homicide”.

(3) A person who uses defensive force shall be presumed to have reasonably feared imminent death or great bodily harm, or the commission of a felony upon him or another or upon his dwelling, or against a vehicle which he was occupying, or against his business or place of employment or the immediate premises of such business or place of employment, if the person against whom the defensive force was used, was in the process of unlawfully and forcibly entering, or had unlawfully and forcibly entered, a dwelling, occupied vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or if that person had unlawfully removed or was attempting to unlawfully remove another against the other person’s will from that dwelling, occupied vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof and the person who used defensive force knew or had reason to believe that the forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act was occurring or had occurred. This presumption shall not apply if the person against whom defensive force was used has a right to be in or is a lawful resident or owner of the dwelling, vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or is the lawful resident or owner of the dwelling, vehicle, business, place of employment or the immediate premises thereof or if the person who uses defensive force is engaged in unlawful activity or if the person is a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his official duties;

(4) A person who is not the initial aggressor and is not engaged in unlawful activity shall have no duty to retreat before using deadly force under subsection (1) (e) or (f) of this section if the person is in a place where the person has a right to be, and no finder of fact shall be permitted to consider the person’s failure to retreat as evidence that the person’s use of force was unnecessary, excessive or unreasonable.

(5) (a) The presumptions contained in subsection (3) of this section shall apply in civil cases in which self-defense or defense of another is claimed as a defense.

97-3-15 If anyone cares to look at the actual law for Mississippi.

Most states have something similar today. That’s not what we’re discussing though, rather than the text of the law we’re talking about the law in application.

Specifically how prosecutors will look at a case when they are deciding to charge, send to a GJ, or if you go to trial how a jury will see it along with how it looks in a civil trial.

As many good lawyers will tell you, you can do things absolutely according to the law and still end up charged and quite possibly convicted due to how the prosecutor, grand jury/jury/judge feels about the case.

In a civil case juries are almost always looking to side with the plaintiff and you have to then prove to them you not only acted reasonably, lawfully but also that you had no other choice.

I’ll bow out now and wait to see if any of our lawyers will chime in.

I understand, that is why I included section 3, which the last sentence says that it is applied to civil lawsuits in Mississippi. The way it was explained to me
( by a lawyer) is you have to first be convicted of Homicide, then you can be sued civilly. Our law in Mississippi is a defense against homicide criminally as well as civilly.
Again, Im not a lawyer, its just the way I understand it.
The method of homicide to my knowledge does not matter in MOST instances. If a guy breaks into my home and he doesn’t live there, then the law allows me to kill him and not be charged civilly or criminally. Of course when lawyers are involved anything can happen.
That is why I think its so important to remain silent if you are involved in a shooting. Let Your lawyer answer for you.

In most states you can be sued for wrongful death even without a conviction.

In Texas were lucky, if you aren’t found guilty you are essentially immune to those suits.

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When I was in L.E. we originally trained to fire at center of mass, i.e. upper torso, but as more police agencies throughout the country encountered more bad guys wearing body armor we altered our training and started taking “head” shots. To this day I continue training with center of mass and head shots because if you are in a defensive shooting situation by the time your brain registers the assailant is wearing body armor you’re too late. So instinctive training to include “head” shots can be defended by a good attorney knowledgeable in defensive shooting incidents. Of course if your first two shots to the body drop and stop the assailant then good luck explaining away the “head” shot or any third shot for that matter.

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The question isn’t so much the third shot due to body armor, it’s the location of it. I think most training orgs have changed from teaching head shot to teaching pelvis shot for two reasons: first, pelvis is larger and less mobile so it’s a higher percentage shot. Second, head shot has been used by prosecutors as “evidence” that it wasn’t self defense but intentional murder… that it wasn’t about stopping the threat but about making the guy dead.

Since the riverside sheriff requires the very thing that the riverside prosecutor is likely to use against you, it seems like a problem.

OK. I now understand what you are trying to define. Thanks for the clarification. Mea Culpa.

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I do believe a good defense attorney could convince a reasonable jury/judge that a head shot could be a necessity, based on the situation. An assailant wearing body armor, using a hard barrier as cover, or even a hostage situation. Even a madman or woman, using a vehicle as a weapon. Their torso is shielded/protected, and even their lower extremities in some situations. Granted, the fact that being involved in a shooting, and then adding these other variables, really cuts down the likelihood of this happening. But, we have members of even this small community, who have been involved in situations like this, so, improbable is definitely not impossible. @Roger, you as a LEO know how quickly, even a duty sized weapon can be emptied into a target. If the prosecution wanted to make a point out of how many shots were fired, we all need to be able to articulate we fired to stop the threat. Under the stress of the moment, we fired until the slide locked back, or the gun went “click.”

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I agree with you wholeheartedly. Soo many potential intangibles that a GOOD ATTORNEY is paramount in being able to articulate the shooters circumstances. Of course the defensive shooter also must be able to articulate his/her actions in firing until the threat has been stopped/controlled.

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Overall, my concern is that after firing two shots the threat is still present, then I wouldn’t want to mess around with continuing the gunfight and would want to end it as quickly as possible which I believe a head shot would accomplish. A hip/pelvic shot could lead to a “wounded bear” returning fire. I don’t think a return shot would occur with a head shot.

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Right, and a good attorney is part of why I’m a USCCA member. That said, even the best attorney can only work with what you provide. If one is all over Mozambique as a primary training technique, or trained that shot #3 should go to the head as a matter of muscle memory, you give the prosecution more to work with and your attorney less … that may be what tips the balance in prosecuting you.
Where this gets messier is when the sheriff says “empty the mag and every third shot has to be a headshot” … and their endorsement of that as a requirement is definitely creating a mindset, especially for those who don’t get further training. If the sheriff-endorsed mindset predisposes people to then be prosecuted, that’s an issue.

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I agree with you on the Sheriff’s position. He is not the one being prosecuted. The USCCA and other responsible training organizations clearly, as well as every L.E. agency I’m aware of teaches to fire until the threat is stopped or comes under control.
Under those circumstances I believe I would be very confident in explaining my “head shot” as a necessary evil that needed to be taken for my survival as well as the good guys around me.

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I’m meeting with a Sgt in a few who used to be in the training division. I’m going to ask about the rationale behind the qual standards.

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Current wisdom is that’s not the case… there are large arteries and pelvic bones in the pelvis… you hit a pelvic bone and that person is done going anywhere, providing you an opportunity to escape. Pelvic arteries might not be as plentiful as thoracic arteries, but they’re going to be quickly debilitating if hit. Pelvis is a larger target than the head, and is far less likely to move out of your sight picture, meaning less chance of a miss and a bullet going who knows where.
Of course the circumstance of the situation will dictate, and people on drugs and rage can sustain a lot of damage and keep coming, but a broken pelvic or hip bone will still mechanically stop them. And shock may put an end to their ability to shoot pretty quickly.
Anyway, the attorney the question I want to ask is really more about the conflict of interests the sheriff’s retirement is potentially creating around how your mindset is being interpreted based on where you tried to put your shots.

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I think what @Roger is saying pertains to the assailant still being armed. Even immobilized, and bleeding out, if armed they are still very much a threat. Someone high on PCP, bath salts, you name it. They will fight until their central nervous system gives out. Either from a direct hit, which a headshot would accomplish, or extreme loss of blood.

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