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Old January 14, 2010, 11:38 AM   #1
Saguaro Firearms
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Altering firearms

I have a very serious question. i have been told by several people that after a justified shooting, the prosecuting side can make all sorts of claims about intent due to alterations of your firearm, ie trigger jobs, lights/lasers, higher capacity magazines than what come with the weapon. all of my defense handguns are stock with the exception of a pair of grips on my 1911, and i have removed the one piece guide rod for a ww2 style for ease of disassembly, however the 28 inch shotgun by the bed now sports a 18 inch open choke barrel and a magazine extension, and soon to be a tac light and side saddle.

my question is will i get hammerd for those changes in court following a justifiable homicide, because i turned a hunting gun into a "man killing machine?" showing intent. or should i just not risk it and return the gun to its original condition and just buy a weapon that comes factory the way i need it?
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Old January 14, 2010, 11:46 AM   #2
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If it's a justifiable homicide, a 'prosecutor' will never be part of the equation other than to render a 'no file' decision.

You can get sued by anybody for just about anything. May not go anywhere.

Plan your own course according to common sense and your own concerns.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:01 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sarge
You can get sued by anybody for just about anything.
This is the best advise.

Having said that, my customized pistols are for sport. The defense firearms my wife and I use are "box stock." And for a very good reason.

I once sat at a hearing and watched an attorney rattle off all of the stupid things I did over the decades in one sentence to an arbitrator. Yikes, I would have voted 'guilty' at that moment.

Added, for a few years at a Gander Mountain I had the opportunity to work with a retired LEO. He opined that if he ever had to defend himself he expected to barbequed in our liberal newspaper as a "trained police officer gone rogue with a firearm." Admittedly I chuckled. He then asked me to review my life...

I figure why give these parasites an even break? Test fire your defense pistol, and if it doesn't function, have it repaired. Make sure your ammunition and magazine work.

Then if some DA wants to make his bones on your back your attorney can demonstrate that your pistol is "right off the rack at Wal-Mart."

...Oh, and get a haircut and wear a suit...
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:04 PM   #4
Playboypenguin
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"People" make this claim all of the time. Mostly on the internet. I have never had a single one of these people ever be able to show me a single documented case where any prosecutor was successful in using such a claim to obtain a conviction in a situation where the shoot was otherwise legitimate. INHO, these claims fall into the "boogey man" category as far as stories go.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:15 PM   #5
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Not a lawyer, but I would be leery of making any modifications that the plaintiff attorney might find as as evidence of your wrong-doing. Even if you were not prosecuted - or cleared - in crimical court, you could still be sued in civil court (wrongful death, etc.).

Say you modified the DA trigger from 12lbs to 5lbs. They could argue that even though your shooting the other guy would have been justifiable self defense, your handgun discharge was "accidental" because you lightened the trigger too much. In fact, your gun went off not because your conscious pull of the trigger to execute an act of self-denfense, but rather an unintentional discharge because of a "malfunction" of the firearm.

No guarantee these arguments would prevail in a court of law, but why expose yourself to the possibilities?

Now if you just change the grips - unless it is some gross alteration - you are most likely okay. The plaintiff's attorneys may still try, but there is not a whole of meat for them to sink their teeth into.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:16 PM   #6
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Can they make these claims in court? Sure they can. Their job is to obtain a conviction.

Can you defend against these claims? I would hope so. If you have modified all your guns for the sole purpose of killing someone, then you might have a problem. If you made these modifications for other reasons (i.e., sporterize the gun, make it smoother to shoot, more capacity for target shooting) and you have a good defense attorney, I would think the points of the prosecutor are moot.

I agree with PBP on his comment (Although I am going to ask a friend who is in the defense business if he has heard of such a case) and think it is just a coffee table lawyer spouting off.

Also, please consider, the type of guy who breaks into your house and threatens you, or your family, probably is not the stellar citizen who is going to hire an attorney to sue you because you shot him with an 18" barrelled shotgun as opposed to the 24' barrels one.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:35 PM   #7
The Tourist
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Playboypenguin
"People" make this claim all of the time. Mostly on the internet. I have never had a single one of these people ever be able to show me a single documented case
Well, now you have met me.

In both my 1979 trial and in the arbitration hearing to keep my job my actions were repeatedly described as carrying a "loaded concealed firearm."

In one humorous exachange during the arbitration there was a pantomime re-enactment of my body frisk to demonstrate if the arresting officer could see the pistol in my pocket, feel it, discern if the safety was on, etc.

From that demonstration the pistol was then described as having a "loaded chamber."

In other words, what you and I consider simply "the manual of arms" was used against me as manure on the barn-door.

In this light, my attorney negotiated the court trial down to probation, time served, a six week citizenship course, a fifty dollar fine and entry into Wisconsin's "first offenders" program.

After more than a year on the arbitration, I lost my job but kept the unemployment funds until a new hearing in 1990.

Trust me, if a DA can soil your reputation by prosecuting the firearm to win a case, he will.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:43 PM   #8
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Actually, I still do not see any proof of anything. I do not even see how what you just said is relevant to the topic. The topic is regarding the idea that a person who is involved in an otherwise good shoot or other self defense use of a firearm could be convicted due to the condition of the gun they used, the caliber, custom grips, etc. It sounds to me you just got fired for carrying a gun at work.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:43 PM   #9
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Not sure what your job is/was... but It's not legal to carry in Wisconsin... so of course you would be guilty of:

Quote:
my actions were repeatedly described as carrying a "loaded concealed firearm."
You didn't say anything about this being an event of a self-defense shooting... it sounds like you got busted for carrying a gun illegally which is not nearly in the same realm of justified use of lethal force.

Maybe I'm just confused by your statement.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:49 PM   #10
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Quote:
Having said that, my customized pistols are for sport. The defense firearms my wife and I use are "box stock." And for a very good reason.
I try to keep my firearms stock with a few exceptions, such as better sights/night sights or a more durable finish. If a prosecuting attorney wants to make these items an issue, I need to be able to articulate WHY these modifications were made to the firearm in question.
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Old January 14, 2010, 12:49 PM   #11
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No Malice, you are absolutely right. I was guilty, I'm simply stating that rather than try me they found it more expedient to prosecute the pistol. And it worked--or scared my attorney bad enough to plea it out.

In 1979 I was a bill collector for the UW Hospital in Madison Wisconsin working in the WARF Building. Tension was brewing in bike circles. In fact, one of our members, Lenny Stone, was shot and killed during this time. At the age of 28 I took the law into my own hands and decided to carry. I got ratted out by the jealous ex-boy friend of a woman I dated.

They could have stated, "It's a gun, he's guilty." That's not what happened.
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Old January 14, 2010, 07:02 PM   #12
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I think the real question is do you want to give an over zealous DA more ammunition (pun intended) than needed to scare a bunch of antigun jury members?
I use a 100% stock Glock as mine. It's the same as my and the other police department's service weapons so I'll be able to bring up the point that I use it because it's known as effective and that's it.
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Old January 14, 2010, 07:24 PM   #13
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For some reason, I think my life, and the lives of my family are worth whatever edge I can get. It would never occur to me to choose a less-effective weapon, or one that is harder to shoot (hit) than necessary. Arguing that someone using a custom gun is out to kill people, is like arguing that someone who buys a car with airbags and wears a seatbelt is intending to crash their car. Any argument can be made, but that doesn't mean you have to lack skill or creativity in countering it.
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Old January 14, 2010, 09:00 PM   #14
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Quote:
I think the real question is do you want to give an over zealous DA more ammunition (pun intended) than needed to scare a bunch of antigun jury members?
You do know how jury selection works, yes? If you end up with a jury full of antigunners, your attorney did something wrong.

I also agree that the idea of a 3.5lb trigger connector making you more likely to be wrongly convicted of a justifiable use of lethal force is a ridiculous argument.
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Old January 15, 2010, 11:44 AM   #15
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In my state (CO) we have a law that says you can't be subject to civil suits related in any way to a justifiable homicide. We also have a "Make My Day" law (yeah it's really called that) that says you don't have to try to flee from inside your own home when your life is threatened.

Assuming it got to the point of a prosecutor being involved though, the only modifications I'd stay away from are engravings or other emblems like the Punisher Skull that people put on some of their guns. That and anything that violates the laws where I live.
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Old January 15, 2010, 11:57 AM   #16
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The Prosecutor and/or opposing counsel aren't present to witness your shooting. Therefore they're compelled to hypothesize about the shooting using whatever evidence is available.

Any alteration you may have had done to your firearm may play NO role in the shooting whatsoever. But that is a fact that won't stop lawyers from hypothesizing (fabricating circumstances and your intent) to build their case against you.

Criminal/civil TRIAL IS NOT ABOUT JUSTICE. IT IS NOT ABOUT THE TRUTH. It is about which side presents the most persuasive case, supported by evidence, to the jury.

Cheers!

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Old January 15, 2010, 11:58 AM   #17
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Jan Libourel once wrote in Guns & Ammo that as a professional witness he had seen hand loads used against a home owner in a righteous shooting and had also seen 1911 grips inscribed "KILL 'EM ALL, LET GOD SORT 'EM OUT" used against a defendant. Caution is advised in altering defensive firearms.
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Old January 15, 2010, 11:58 AM   #18
The Tourist
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ProjectCamaro
I think the real question is do you want to give an over zealous DA more ammunition
I believe you are right.

I also believe that if you only go as far as putting fancy-schmancy pearl or ivory grips on a handgun it signals to a jury that you think of yourself as a gunfighter.

Remember, a jury is of "your peers." This does not always mean members of the NRA, but more likely citzens who live in your municipal area. Your liberal Democrat neighbor is your peer.

To that end, imagine yourself sitting as a defendant in your brand new haircut and suit smelling like mothballs as a smirking DA dangles a pearl-handled firearm in front of an unschooled jury.

"This ladies and gentlemen," the DA begins, "is an automatic pistol and a handful of hollowpoints the defendant knowingly placed in his pocket..."
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Old January 15, 2010, 12:16 PM   #19
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Talked with my law buddy last night about the OP's original question. Like PBP, he could not recall an actual case where a legal firearm, reguardless of the modifications, was ever actually used to convict someone in a justifiable shooting case.

So if you shave your trigger to make your gun shoot easier, or put fancy grips on the gun, so long as you stay legal (Both state and Federal law) you should not have a problem. But if you are really concerned with this, then contact a good lawyer and ask him or her.

I tend to think that in a case of justifiable homicide, other factors would be considered before they got around to the modification you might have made to your gun or ammo.
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Old January 15, 2010, 12:43 PM   #20
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I wouldn't put punisher grips on a defensive firearm. I wouldn't think about it if I was adding a laser , light, side saddle.

I'd rather defend my laser in court than not be given the chance.
Of course, I don't have any of those things on my shotgun anyways.
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Old January 15, 2010, 01:42 PM   #21
Playboypenguin
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Quote:
the only modifications I'd stay away from are engravings or other emblems like the Punisher Skull that people put on some of their guns.
Why? Do you have an ounce of evidence of any precedent? Or are you just spooked by internet scary stories?
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Old January 15, 2010, 01:59 PM   #22
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+1 on PBPenguins comments .... I just don't see modifying a weapon as a series issue in the bigger scheme of what happened, what you did, etc ...

To imply otherwise is just a lot of noise in my opinion.
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Old January 15, 2010, 02:16 PM   #23
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If it's a good shoot - why are you on trial?

There is a large body of research on what influences juries. Weapons issues have been shown to influence mock juries.

There is no way to know what goes on in a specific trial. Prosecutors do make it a point of displaying and exaggerating the weapon. If they didn't, would their presentation be less effective? Can't tell in that specific case as we don't have alternate realities. Thus, the simulations.

Take it or leave it. You will have the jail time fun.
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Old January 15, 2010, 02:26 PM   #24
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When this subject came up about a year ago, I read an outstanding summary on these very pages.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Erich
Former prosecutor, longtime defense lawyer here.

First of all, I'm not able to see your photo on this machine and thus am commenting in general and not on your specific weapon.

It depends on who catches the case. Some cops are offended by "tactical" weapons, as are some prosecutors and grand jurors. The attitude of the cops and prosecutors involved in reviewing your shooting will certainly be reflected in the treatment that your case receives. Your appearance, the part of town in which you live, your connection to the person who was shot, the weapon that you used, your profession, your employment status, your attitude, and all the information about the person shot - these are all things that will be in the background when the state actors review your case and decide how to handle it. So will the overall political climate of your locale - this will also affect how the grand jury views your case after the shooting.

Your use of a "tactical" gun is not likely to affect a defensive shooting case in which Charles Manson bursts into your five-year-old's birthday party in the middle of the afternoon wielding an RPG and singing "Helter Skelter." But, in my considerable experience working on homicide cases, things are rarely so clear. Like Mas Ayoob advises regarding the use of handloads in defensive weapons, it behooves one to think before adding in another potentially detrimental variable.





I own EBR-type things, but my "house rifle" is a lovely walnut-stocked Navy Arms 92 short rifle levergun . . . a "cowboy gun." Concern over appearances played a part in my selecting that gun for that role, even though I'm in a fairly gun-friendly area and defensive shootings with AK-47s have been no-billed by local grand juries. You may come to a different conclusion, but you are wise to consider this issue in making your determination of what's right for you.

As far as "how to deal with the issue in a hypothetical homicide trial"? No one can answer that, as the relevant variables in play aren't yet before us. You are wise to have the ability to coherently and reasonably explain the need for any additions to your base gear and your rationale for selecting that base gear. You would be wise to be prepared with the contact information for a good criminal defense attorney (how to find this has been discussed here many times) in the event that - God forbid - you would ever need one.
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Old January 15, 2010, 02:41 PM   #25
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BTW, a study of police demonstrated that if they stopped you for a minor firearms violation and they had discretion - if the gun was an AR vs. a sporting gun - the former was more likely to get you busted or at least the ride.
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