The self defense community, like any I suppose, is filled with quips and clever saying. Eventually they all become trite but that doesn't keep them from being thrown around with little thought or consideration to what is actually being expressed.
One such phrase is, "I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six."
What is trying to be expressed here is that one would rather be judged in a court of law by a jury (twelve jurors) than die (six pallbearers).
This phrase is frequently used when there is a measure of confusion about a self defense law. Instead of searching for legal clarification someone will say, "Well, I'd rather be judged by twelve than carried by six," implying that they are okay being on the questionable side of the law than face dying at the hands of an attacker.
Firstly, ignorance of the law is never a good defense.
Shaneen Allen, a PA resident, was driving in NJ when she was pulled over for a dangerous lane change. She handed her driver's license and PA-issued carry permit to the officer and informed him that she had a gun in her car. According to her lawyer she did not know what she was doing was illegal.
She is now facing prison time. As this article, by the Washington Post puts it, "But if she is denied [an amnesty] defense, she
will almost certainly go to trial, and under New Jersey’s gun law, she
will have no real defense. Unless her jury engages in a defiant act of nullification, she will be convicted, and her trial judge will have no choice but to sentence her to the three-year minimum."
Shaneen's only crime was having access to a firearm in her vehicle and having a specific type of ammunition. She is going through a legal hell because of it. How much more difficult might the situation be if said firearm had been used? What if someone were involved in a questionable act of self defense with a firearm?
If there is ambiguity about a law it is not time to throw up your hands and say, "I don't understand it so I'm just going to hope for the best." It's time to knuckle down and get to the bottom of that law. Your future and freedom may depend on it.
Read your state statutes. If you don't understand them, ask someone who does. Get a few books and start reading, compare what you know about your own state with the states around you. Attend a class geared toward self defense law. Do not leave your understanding of self defense law up to chance, especially if you carry a lethal tool.
No trial is no picnic.
I believe a lot of people who throw out this phrase really don't think their particular case will ever make it to trial. They are somehow under the illusion that if they ever get into a lethal encounter it will be so black and white that their innocence will never be in question.
Many times that is the case. The evidence paints a pretty clear picture and charges are never filed. That doesn't mean life gets to go back to normal. Sometimes it does. A lot of times it doesn't.
Reading accounts of self defense accounts where shots have actually been fired and especially where there has been loss of life shows a grim reality. Sometimes there are injuries to recover from. Other times there may be a loss of a loved one's life or an injury. Many times there are still social repercussions wherein friends and family distance themselves, no longer wishing to be associated with someone who has taken a life.
There may be threats from friends and family of the aggressor.
Even if the situation itself was pretty clear in the mind of the shooter, however, that doesn't always mean that witnesses or evidence paints the same legal picture. In which case, a trial is at hand.
Finally, death may not be the worst outcome and there are many ways to die.
What really irks me about this particular phrase is that it implies that death is absolutely the worst outcome and that putting your future in the hands of a jury is always going to be a better option.
This will largely depend on what an individual can handle and what s/he can take in the way of financial, emotional and personal stressors.
There are people out there who can genuinely say that death for them would be the ultimate, worst case scenario. They don't care if they are bankrupt, in prison with no friend, have failing health and no rights. They are breathing, therefor it's not as bad as it could be.
On the other hand, there are many people who would welcome death before they welcomed bankruptcy or a felony murder conviction, the disgrace of their name, the loss of their wife and kids (even if that loss is only emotional), a substantial prison sentence or the loss of their lifestyle as they know it. To some, losing everything might as well be death. It may not be a physical death but it's a type of death just the same.
That may happen to anyone who leaves his fate in the hands of a jury.
You don't have to look far to find cases of where self defense is used as the legal defense that have gone to trial. Two of the most well known and publicized trials were the George Zimmerman trial and the Michael Dunn trial. One ended in exoneration, the other in conviction and both lives will never be the same.
Court costs and lawyer fees leave individuals hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt if not millions. Homes are sold. Divorce is common. The social repercussions from neighborhoods push families out of communities often resulting in divorce and disassociation of children and loved ones. Jobs are terminated. The trial process is long and even if the verdict is favorable there is the stress of picking up those pieces and moving on. There can even be PTSD or living with life-long injuries. If the verdict is one of guilt (and it may be) you then have a prison sentence to serve and a criminal record for life and the subsequent struggle to find work and a future based on that record.
Very few people know with certainty what kind of pressures they can handle. Could you handle a 20-year prison term separated from your family and life as you know it? Would your family be there for you afterward? Could the person you are survive that? If you physically survived would you emotionally survive? Could you pick your life back up after a manslaughter or murder conviction? Could you find work with a felony record? Is the death of everything you knew something you have considered?
Because I can't answer those questions for myself I choose not to be flippant about the responsibility I have to make sure I don't put myself into a position where such an outcome is probable. Don't get me wrong, a worst case scenario is always possible, not always probable.
To paraphrase one of the instructors at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference, "When you decide you will take on [a lethal fight for your life] you agree you accept the bill and pay for [the trial and any outcome] no matter what the cost."
That's not something anyone should take lightly.
Know your local law. Know the law of any states you frequent or may travel into. Learn the difference between true lethal situations wherein lethal force is justifiable and less-than-lethal situations. Learn when lethal force is no longer justifiable. Seek out training that helps you identify those differences. Understand the gravity of what a trial would likely be.
Are you giving those things the respectful attention they deserve?