by Marty Hayes, J.D.
I recently made a video to set the record straight about the Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network. You can hardly go online without finding comparisons between the Network and all the companies out there providing self-defense insurance. For the most part, they get the facts about the Network wrong, giving incorrect or out of date details. I want to let you know, straight from the president, what the Network consists of and how we operate. For this column, I’ll distill what I said on video for those preferring a written format, or you can click here to view the full-length video.
A Little History
We started the Network in 2008, after I’d taught firearms full time for about 15 years while being a part-time law enforcement officer and working on expert witness cases.
I enrolled in law school to achieve something I’d always wanted to do: get a Juris Doctor degree and likely practice law, but during law school I shifted my focus from practicing law to forming an organization that could help armed citizens after using force in self defense, so that’s what I did after graduating in 2007.
I sought the counsel of training industry luminaries including Tom Givens, Dennis Tueller, Massad Ayoob and John Farnam. They became our advisory board, joined later by Emanuel Kapelsohn, Marie D’Amico, and Karl Rehn. The advisory board serves a twofold purpose: acting as advisors on policy decisions and case review when there are questions of whether an incident is a legitimate act of self defense, and giving the Network credibility. To set the record straight, they are not paid to be on the advisory board. Many competitors have paid spokesmen who make videos and appear in ads. We don’t.
We started with only a handful of members and no money in the Legal Defense Fund, but now, after 15 years, we have grown the membership to over 21,000 members and the Legal Defense Fund is now over four million dollars. At first, we had to put a limit on how much we could spend on any individual’s case because we simply did not have the money in the Legal Defense Fund. We started putting 20% of all member dues in a separate bank account that was strictly reserved for members’ legal defense. We later could afford 25% and that’s where we’re sitting at this time. The remaining 75% covers operating costs including salaries, administrative overhead, rent, advertising, taxes (including tax on the money we put in the Legal Defense Fund) and even the cost of making videos.
Over the past 15 years, we have continuously upgraded our benefits to members. Because we are not selling insurance or buying an insurance policy to underwrite our program like some companies do, we refuse to use the term “coverage.” We don’t cover anything. Instead, we have a list of benefits that members can access if they qualify. What does that mean? That means there’s no guarantee that we will supply financial assistance to any given member. Each request is assessed as to the legitimacy of a viable claim of self defense.
That may sound ominous, but understand that our Legal Defense Fund exists to help members and we do everything that we can to use that money for its intended purpose. We do not have an insurance underwriter who exists to find reasons to deny disbursement of legal defense funds, but we also would be in big trouble if we assisted people who intentionally commit crimes or if we said we would pay for legal defense of an intentional criminal act. Understand also that the other companies’ plans may deny assistance, too, they just do not publicize it. We do.
How do we determine if a member has a valid claim of self defense? We use the standard that the courts use when giving jury instructions. If there is just a scintilla of credible, admissible evidence of self defense and the member was not the initial aggressor (started the fight) or committed a separate crime (like armed robbery), we are very likely going to fund the defense.
To date, we have assisted in 29 requests for funding. We have turned down three or four more because there was no evidence of self defense. We talked to the member and after getting the story, asked, “Well, where is the act of self defense?” Typically, the answer is something like, “Hey, I had to try!” Usually, though, there is at least the member’s testimony that he acted in self defense and that is enough for us to fund the defense.
If you are the initial aggressor (started the incident), you will very likely lose your right to argue self defense at trial. That was why we turned down one member who was separated from his wife, dropped by her house unannounced and saw a strange car in the driveway, so he entered the house undetected and confronted his wife and her new boyfriend. An altercation ensued and he pointed his gun at the new boyfriend. That is a good example of when we might say no. If you’re committing another crime in addition to the alleged use of force, we will deny the funding. You can’t rob the 7-Eleven clerk and when the clerk pulls a gun, shoot in self defense. Additionally, if we find out that you have lied about the details of the case, we likely will stop Network involvement in your case.
We make an individualized assessment in each case. We exist to fund the defense of legitimate acts of self defense, so we’re hoping there are circumstances to allow you to argue self defense in court. We won’t turn down a request if there’s legitimate evidence of self defense. Frankly, if that is not good enough for you, we are likely not the right organization for you.
These decisions are usually pretty easy. After hearing the details, we can make a decision fairly quickly.
What if the details are confusing? Then, we run the incident by members of our advisory board. This doesn’t happen very often, but the option is there. When insurance companies make these decisions, they’re made by the insurance underwriter, most likely someone who is not well-versed in self-defense law.
Network attorneys and our experts in lawful self defense know how to effectively prepare a member to justify their actions if their case goes to trial. That starts with what I believe is our most important benefit: our educational package. You see, the defendant has an absolute right to testify on his own behalf and it is very likely you would need to do that to explain to the jury why you reasonably believed that use of force in self defense was necessary. The jury has the right to hear what you knew about self defense when you made that decision.
For example, in my home state of Washington, there’s a WA Supreme Court case expressly stating just that. In the case State v. Janes, the court wrote, “The long-standing rule in this jurisdiction is that evidence of self defense must be assessed from the standpoint of the reasonably prudent person, knowing all the defendant knows and seeing all the defendant sees.” With this in mind, we have put together a set of videos by our advisory board explaining many issues involved in self defense. We also purchase copies of Massad Ayoob’s book Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense, which we supply to our members, too. Between the book and videos, you will receive many hours of top-notch education by recognized instructors, much more than any of the other companies.
Thanks for sticking with me up to this point. I felt it necessary to give a little information about the Network in order to put our list of benefits into perspective. You see, the Network is really simply a big club consisting of people who are passionate about the right to keep and bear arms for self defense. We started it because we were tired of people being prosecuted after legitimately using force in self defense.
Network Membership Details
Now, let’s get into the details about our program. Most journal readers are Network members, so the following will be useful when you tell your friends, family and shooting buddies why you’re part of the Network. Membership is open to citizens who are 18 or older. Convicted felons cannot be part of the Network although we know people make mistakes. We encourage them to get their rights restored after which we would welcome them into the Network. Membership costs $150 for the first year which includes the educational package; add a spouse for an additional $70 per year. Renewals are $105 per year. We don’t take monthly payments because that would require at least one additional staffer just to handle bookkeeping and rebilling, necessitating a dues increase. We don’t want to do that.
One of the biggest advantages to Network membership is that you get the right to choose your own attorney. We will never assign an attorney for you. When we set up this program, freedom to choose was one of the things about which I was adamant. After spending 20 years in law enforcement, serving as an expert in the legal arena, plus my law school education, I know that not all attorneys are created equal. When it is my freedom on the line, I want the absolute right to choose who represents me. Members can even change attorneys if they’re not happy with their first choice. We’ve done that before, too.
Many people do not know how to select an attorney so we have our Network Affiliated attorney program which consists of over 500 attorneys nationwide in case you don’t have a lawyer. In any case, and this is very important, as a member you will not be alone. I will even fly out to your location, or a representative of the Network will come to you and begin the process if that’s necessary.
Now, there’s only one condition on selecting your attorney: their fees must be reasonable and must be in line with the norm for the area. For example, in my area attorney fees usually average $200-250 an hour, but I would expect fees to be much higher in urban areas. If we choose to fund the defense, we will pick up the tab for all the costs: attorney’s fees, expert’s fees, investigator’s fees, court costs, and any other expenses necessary for the best legal defense possible. At first, when we were poor, we said one half of the amount in the Legal Defense Fund was the practical limit that we could spend on a single case. We no longer say that because we know costs would very likely be under a half a million dollars even for a full-blown high-profile case.
We will provide funding to defend any act of self defense, so it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re using a firearm. We will provide funding to defend brandishing, also known as unlawful display. In fact, we encourage people to not shoot immediately but perhaps warn the person at gunpoint to stop doing what they were doing. If you’re in a grand jury state, we will also provide funding before you have to go to a grand jury. We want you to be represented immediately after an incident, not just after you’re charged with a crime. We will provide funding for an attorney immediately, so your legal rights are protected.
The Network is Different
Many companies disallow any hint of a domestic violence situation. When assessing use of force incidents, we don’t do that. We’re going to look at the case and decide whether or not it was legitimate self defense, regardless of previous relationships with the other individual.
Additionally, you don’t have to call the Network immediately after an incident; we don’t have any time restrictions. I know one company requires you to call them within 72 hours or you simply are denied benefits. We don’t do that. In fact, in one case we had a member call us a couple of months later and we picked up his legal defense costs.
What about the use of alcohol? Many companies prohibit use of alcohol when you’re carrying a gun and while that’s not necessarily a good idea, we also know that people have a drink once in a while, maybe beer or wine with dinner. If, as you’re leaving the restaurant, you end up using your gun in self defense, we’re not automatically going to deny you funding for a good legal defense.
Many companies also require recoupment, meaning that if you are found guilty or plead guilty to a lesser crime, you have to pay back the legal costs for your defense. You see, it’s illegal to insure criminal acts, so if you end up being convicted or even plead guilty to a lesser offense, you may have to pay the cost of your defense back to the insurance company. Be sure to read the fine print of any contract and ask questions before you sign up for any one of these insurance-backed programs.
How about appeals? Most of the self-defense insurance companies will not cover appeals because by doing so, they would be insuring a criminal act. Since we’re not insurance, we will fund an appeal, assuming that there is a valid reason for an appeal. What is a valid reason? Errors in rulings from the judge, prosecutorial misconduct, jury misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, and there are many more possible reasons for an appeal. If we funded your case to begin with, it’s because we felt you had a valid case of self defense, so we would also likely fund the appeal.
Since we’re not an insurance company, we do not provide liability insurance, but we would fund the legal defense to fight a lawsuit after self defense. If a plaintiff’s attorney knows there’s a million-dollar liability insurance policy then he would likely file a lawsuit, even if it’s unwarranted because lawyers know insurance companies would rather settle than go to court. That is another reason I avoided involving insurance in the Network’s program. We also do not pay legal defense costs after accidental or negligent discharges or to fight red flag orders. We don’t pay for psychological counseling, lost wages, cleanup, or firearms replacement. Those are all insurance provisions.
Let’s talk about bail for a moment. Bail works like this: the judge sets a monetary amount that he or she hopes will guarantee you come to trial. You can either post that amount yourself or if you don’t have the money then you can hire a bail bondsman. They usually charge 10% of the total bail and on a large amount would likely require collateral to underwrite the bail. If it’s a huge amount, say a half a million dollars, in order for the bondsman to be comfortable that you’ll go to court, you’re likely going to have to put up the deed to your house, to your mom and dad’s house, your gun collection, all of your Krugerrands, or anything else that would add up to the half-million dollars.
Have you ever heard this from one of the insurance companies? They don’t explain it, but you need to understand that getting bail isn’t necessarily automatic. We would pay the 10% percent for you, but if you don’t have the other collateral to put up, then you may not get out of jail.
The Bottom Line
We provide funding for legal costs for any legitimate act of self defense, and we’ll include funding for experts, investigators, and other costs. Funding is determined on the merits of the case – meaning do you have a legitimate, viable claim of self defense? If you don’t, we can deny benefits. If we didn’t explain this, we could be accused of selling insurance. We could not function for the benefit of our members if we were controlled by insurance commissioners or other regulatory agencies.