One of the most neglected and under-stated subjects regarding Civilian Operator training is the legal aspect of self-defense. It not only behooves the CO to be well versed in their particular states Self-Defense laws and statutes, but also to be aware of HOW Self-Defense trials are conducted, and often how POLITICS and other un-related social issues, can impact the verdict. Most people think that the fight for one’s life is over once the threat has been neutralized, but in most cases, and as this story shows, the fight for your life is only just beginning.
I will not waste your time re-hashing the details of the Wafer case, but instead I wanted to go over four primary things the CO can learn as cautionary lessons from this case so they do not make the same mistakes. Now I know hindsight is always 20/20 in cases like these, and experience has taught me that no matter the degree of training or coaching a person goes through, when people are under severe stress, mistakes can and will happen, All we can do as RESPONSIBLE CITIZENS is to hope for the best, prepare for the worst and try to stack the odds for success in our favor.
- The Castle Doctrine ALONE is NEVER a Defense for the use of Lethal Force
Some of you who have been following this case, like myself, may have noticed that in Michigan, where this case occurred, as we do here in Texas, they have the Castle Doctrine as law. Why then did it not work as a defense then? After all a man’s home is his castle right? Doesn’t a person have the right to defend themselves in their home and on their own property? Yes, according to the law, all this is true, but that fact alone is NEVER justification for the use of lethal force. Several other very important factors must corroborate together to form justification to use lethal force to protect oneself.
- Mr. Wafer did not call 911
Nothing can go further in a self-defense case in proving your innocence that PROMPTLY calling 911 either before, during or after the incident. First, it shows law enforcement that you are truly frightened, need help and are not trying to conceal your actions. Second, it acts as evidence. Many times, as in the Zimmerman/Martin case, if the call is placed before or during the event, the audio of the episode can corroborate the testimony of the complaintant. Third, (and this is a stretch), there is the possibility that law enforcement are close by to physically assist. In this instance, Wafer testified the reason he did not call was that he looked for his cell phone, but could not find it in the darkness. Not calling 911 immediately never bodes well for the complainant (the CO). Consider the recent Smith Case in Minnesota where the police were not called until the NEXT DAY by a friend of Smith.
- Unless the threat is immediate and doing so would not endanger your life further, ALWAYS ATTEMPT TO ID THE THREAT BEFORE SHOOTING.
All of us were taught when we started shooting to ALWAYS IDENTIFY OUR TARGET AND THE BACKGROUND before we pull the trigger. Wafer claimed he thought more than one person was banging on the outside of his house, when in fact it turned out to be an unarmed woman. Not that this fact makes it any less of a threat, because at that moment, to Mr. Wafer he was in fear for his life. But always consider HOW SOMETHING WILL APPEAR to a DA or a jury. What they see in this instance is a scared man irresponsibly shooting through a door with a shotgun in a residential neighborhood, not knowing who or what is on the other side. Add to this that firing through any medium, be it a wall or door, especially with a shotgun loaded with buckshot, is inherently dangerous for both the shooter and any bystanders due to penetration and ricochet issues.
- Follow the “5 Things to do AFTER a Shooting” when Police Arrive
One of the crucial pieces of evidence the prosecution used against Wafer was that he gave two conflicting reasons for the shooting. When police arrived, Wafer told them it had been an “accident” and he did not intend to shoot Mcbride. But in court, Wafer testified he shot Mcbride in “Self-Defense”. Below Massad Ayoob gives some decent pointers on what to do when Police arrive after a Self-Defense shooting. Although I don’t always agree with Ayoob in his techniques, in this instance, since he is Law Enforcement, he can give you the best advice for this kind of scenario.
In the end, Mr. Wafer was convicted of 2nd Degree Murder, Involuntary Manslaughter and committing a felony with a Firearm. At sentencing, Wafer faces Up to Life in prison for the 2nd Degree Murder charge, A maximum penalty of 15 years for the Involuntary Manslaughter charge and a Mandatory 2 Years for the Felony with a Firearm charge. It in imperative for the CO, if he or she is going to be well versed in their state’s particular legal system, to understand WHY Wafer was convicted of 2nd Degree Murder versus say 1st or 3rd Degree Murder and WHY a Self-Defense Defense did not work.
CULPABILITY is the differing “mental states” of the accused during a crime. In a 2nd Degree Felony Offense, Mr. Wafer (the accused) is said to have acted “knowingly”; meaning he acted with awareness to his conduct is reasonably certain to cause the death of the victim (McBride). This is to say the Prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Wafer that night did not act with INTENT TO KILL (that is 1st Degree Murder), but rather KNOWINGLY proceeded with his actions knowing it would kill.
Now for a Self-Defense Defense to this charge to be valid, the following must apply:
- The defendant was not in a place they were prohibited from entering.
- The defendant cannot be at fault in the situation.
- The defendant was not the aggressor or instigator.
- The defendant had a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm that required the use of force.
- The defendant requires immediate action in order to prevent bodily harm or loss of life. Once the situation has ceased to threaten bodily harm or loss of life, the self-defense justification is no longer available.
In addition to the other mistakes we discussed above,the last 2 bullet points are what sunk Mr. Wafer according to a jury of his peers. They believed that Mcbride beating on Mr. Wafer’s door at 4:30 in the morning did not create “a reasonable fear of death or great bodily harm” to Mr. Wafer. They also believed that a highly intoxicated person beating on your door DOES NOT require “immediate action” in order to prevent bodily harm or loss of life. Taking everything into consideration in this authors opinion, and despite all of Mr. Wafers mistakes, Mr. Wafer got a bad verdict. I can see the Involuntary Manslaughter charge, but nothing else.
In closing guys, a self-defense shooting is never going to be pretty and unless we make it a priority NOW to prepare ourselves for these unfortunate events, our freedom, like Mr, Wafers, could be taken from us and the rest of our lives flushed down the toilet.
Stay Real, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!