Does anyone have any first hand knowledge of a court case involving a justified self defense shooting that was changed due to the gun being modified?
Ok, so I couldn't find anything with my own research (as I'm sure others have done as well). So I decided to go to the horses mouth. I emailed Massad Ayoob and asked him if he knew of any cases where some modification to a firearm led to a conviction in an otherwise justified self defense shooting. He actually got back to me within a half an hour, which really surprised me, but shows that he really is interested in helping people. Anyway, here's his email to me:
A Google search for appellate lawyer Lisa Steele's article in The Champion, publication of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers on the subject of defending deadly force cases will turn up useful points for you. Light triggers open the door to allegations of indefensible negligent discharges when in fact the shooting was justifiable and intentional; Florida v. Luis Alvarez is a good example, and there's a huge chapter on it in Roy Black's book "Black's Law." (Roy was the lead defense counsel in that case.) A review of Arizona v. Harold Fish will give a good example of how something irrelevant (hollow point ammo in a 10mm pistol) can be twisted against a defendant with convicton resulting, if it is not effectively defended in court.
So, let me break this up, as I did look up a lot of this stuff. First of all, Lisa Steele's article. I will say right now, the article doesn't give a case where mods were used against is, but it does recommend against mods. Part 5 is where you'll find it.
‘Killer’ Bullets and Hair-Triggers
The attorney should research the weapon and ammunition the client used. Ask the client why he purchased and carried that specific weapon. Research its self-defense uses.
The client will be in the strongest position if he or she used a firearm and ammunition similar to that issued to local police departments. Many police departments issue semi-automatic pistols chambered for 9mm or larger caliber with jacketed hollow-point (JHP) ammunition. If the client has used hollow-point ammunition, the attorney should understand and be able to quickly explain to a judge or jury why JHP ammunition is widely recommended for self-defense use. The attorney should have a gunsmith or other expert check the amount of pressure required to pull the trigger on a recovered firearm for the first shot and any subsequent shots, and check its safety devices to make sure they were functioning.
Keep in mind, this article is mainly a primer for attorneys who may have to defend a self defense shooting. Having said that, it's a great read for anyone who wants to know the different legal angles that might be taken by either side of a case you may be a part of.
The Florida vs. Luis Alvarez case is next. There's a discussion on an archive of these forums from about 10 years ago that mentions it and has a decent overview of it. I haven't read Black's Law, but I think I might now.
Lastly, the Harold Fish case. This is one I've actually looked into. Massad is correct when he says something irrelevant was turned into a conviction. Why? Because the prosecution was successful in arguing to the jury that 10mm JHP ammunition was excessive and that only someone who was a bloodthirsty killer would use that (that is how Mr. Fish was portrayed by the prosecution, even though the evidence didn't support it.) Mr. Fish spent 3 years in prison for 2nd Degree Murder until he won an appeal that allowed him to be free. He actually passed away last month, 3 years since he was released.
Ammo shouldn't be an issue (except reloads, of course) in a defense case. However, in this case it was. A light trigger, or removed magazine safety, or laser engraved "Smile before Flash" shouldn't be an issue either. But you are inviting trouble if you do these things to your carry weapon.
In Florida vs Alvarez, he was aquitted. But according to the attorney, it could have gone either way.
In the Harold Fish case (I'd recommend reading it, it's very interesting), something that shouldn't have been a factor, was a factor, and he was convicted, it cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he lost 3 years of his life to prison. He was eventually found not guilty, and released, but is it worth it to you to go through what he did?
Bottom line, modify your gun at your own risk. Chances are, you won't be in a self defense shooting, so it won't matter. But, what if you are? Do you want yet another legal hurdle to have to jump in order to get aquitted? Personally, I'd want the easiest time possible. It's proven time and time again, you don't need a super clean 2# trigger to get good groups. Hell, I remember seeing something somewhere (maybe in one of his books) where Mas Ayoob shot a perfect IDPA classifier (no points down) with a heavy double action revolver. So that super light, crisp trigger just isn't needed. I for one don't want to give the other side of my potential criminal/civil trial ANY ammunition. I'll just practice and make up for not have that super trigger.