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Self Defense and "Stand your ground"

by: Old Prosecutor

Wed Mar 21, 2012 at 22:30:21 PM CDT

The slaying of Trayvon Martin in Florida has brought the spotlight on so called "stand your ground" self defense statutes http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-21/stand-your-ground-law-trayvon-martin-florida/53690608/1?csp=34news 

A reader recently emailed me and asked if I could explain (in plain English) what "stand your ground" means. Here goes:

Alabama, like all states, recognizes that you have a right to defend your self. In regards to deadly force (killing your attacker) Alabama law permits you to do so if you reasonably believe (1) that an attacker is about to use deadly physical force (force that could cause serious physical injury or death) against you or a third person (2) is about to use any type of force against an occupant of a dwelling which the attacker is burglarizing (3) the attacker is committing certain felonies involving danger to persons. 

Before 2006 this right was tempered by the "duty to retreat". Very simply it meant that if you were attacked and you could safely retreat (walk away), you had a duty to do so rather than killing your attacker. There was no duty to retreat if you were in your own home.

Old Prosecutor :: Self Defense and "Stand your ground"

However in 2006 Alabama became one of 21 states to enact so called "stand your ground" self defense laws. These laws did away with the duty to retreat and instead allowed you to stand your ground and kill your attacker rather than retreating.

But the law went further. It added that in alleged self defense situations it would be presumed that the use of deadly force against your attacker was justified.

It goes on to say that a person using deadly force against an attacker is immune from criminal or civil prosecution.

Finally it added this proviso which is in the fore of the Florida controversey " A law enforcement agency may use standard procedures for investigating the use of deadly force, but the agency may not arrest the person for using force unless it determines that there is probable cause that the force used was unlawful"    

This has made many law enforcement agencies reluctant to arrest people who claim to have acted in self defense until the case has been presented to a Grand Jury.

Florida had 43 cases of justified self defense homicide in 2005 before they changed their law to"stand your ground". In 2009,after the change, they had 105 such cases. 

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predicted this would happen when the law was passed (4.00 / 2)
What laws like this may do (4.00 / 3)

is convince more folk to arm themselves, especially black folk, mexicans, and other folk of color, because we see that white folk seem, if not the fact, to kill more and more folk of color.Wealth seems too to make some folk of color white.

White folk appear to be very dangerous.  I will think twice about approaching one to ask for directions, visiting friends who live in wealthy neighborhoods, or being the suspected behaviour of being black and nearby.

Qui bibit, dormit; qui dormit, non peccat; qui non peccat, sanctus est; ergo qui bibit sanctus est.

Thank you for the clear analysis, OP. (4.00 / 4)
It is a poorly conceived law, particularly with the addition of the "no arrest" clase.

Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

Unless I'm misremembering ... (4.00 / 1)

2006 was an election year in Alabama and this 'stand your ground' or 'shoot to kill' law was sponsored by conservative, rural Democrats (I believe my state rep. was one of those behind it) who also generally called themselves pro-life.  What a joke.  They were pandering to conservative white voters in their districts in a last ditch attempt to hold onto the Legislature.  And it worked -- it bought them one more term in power before conservative, rural, white voters stopped pretending to be Democrats or independents and started voting straight ticket Republican.

I have never been able to reconcile laws like this -- no duty to avoid deadly force if possible!!??? -- with the 'I'm pro life" statements of these charlatans.  What part of "pro-life" do they not understand?  It's only two words and neither one means it's OK to shoot to kill.

Work harder and work smarter!

It's a tough call on the duty to retreat. (4.00 / 3)

I can understand people not liking a requirement to retreat from an intruder on their own property. I just think there ought to be a reasonable perception of a threat requirement i.e. the kid who accidentally opens the unlocked door of your apartment thinking it was his should be treated differently from the guy who breaks in.

I don't think this really has anything to do with pro-life argument, which is largely about how we treat children in my mind (i.e. mothers should always be forced to carry pregnancies to term but we shouldn't have to pay for school, healthcare, housing or proper nutrition for those kids) not adults who are trespassing on property or threatening the lives of others. But that goes back to the what should be a reasonable perception of a threat requirement.

[ Parent ]
I think it's a mistake to let the right define "pro-life" as only a reproductive stance (4.00 / 1)

If they want to claim they're "pro-life" they should also oppose capitol punishment and shoot to kill laws, as well as support programs that provide life-saving health care to anyone who needs it.  Not to mention adequate nutrition and a living wage.  If you call yourself pro-life you ought to be unwilling to take another life under any circumstances, even to save your own, let alone to save your property.  Otherwise just call it pro-birth, because that's all it means to conservatives.

I believe the commandment reads "Thou shalt not kill."  It doesn't have a footnote with a list of exceptions. 

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Actually, in the original Hebrew... (4.00 / 3)

that commandment is "You will not murder," which is a different meaning than kill.

Jewish Talmudic law allows someone to kill to save their own life or the life of an innocent person - ie someone threatening a child...

It also bestows "personhood" on a born child, not an embryo.

And it's really annoying to have the evangelical Christians (I'm looking at you, Shadrack McGill) who happily flaunt their "New" Testament credentials continually refer to Jewish scriptures to justify their extreme political views. 

Because they don't know what they're talking about....  grrrr.....

"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness."  - John Kenneth Galbraith

[ Parent ]
I knew Jesus was a liberal ... (4.00 / 1)

But now you're telling me that even the God of the Old Testament allows nuance and shades of gray in the commandments?  Not to mention that He or She doesn't say life begins at the moment of conception?  God is a liberal, right along with Jesus.  How did conservatives miss this?

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]
Under existing self-defense laws, even prior to "stand your ground" (4.00 / 3)

there was no requirement to retreat from your own property.  For many of us, given the choice, we would retreat, at least somewhat, rather that take a life, but it was not required.  The worst part of this law is that it has stopped Police from detaining suspects while they develop their case.  Since murder victims are notoriously silent, this is usually done by forensics, and developing witnesses, which takes time.


Only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten. Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

[ Parent ]
Forensics (4.00 / 2)
And with our Guv'nuh shutting down the forensic labs. it's going to take a LOT of time.

[ Parent ]
The big problem to me is the way the law hamstrings law enforcement... (4.00 / 2)

there are cases where a full investigation might reveal that a party was using "self-defense" as a cover to murder a person in cold blood. Under Alabama law, you can basically shoot anyone who walks into your house without your permission.

That's a tricky matter because I believe that if someone breaks into my house in the middle of the night, I should have the right to defend myself and my family with deadly force without fear of prosecution. The flipside to the way the law is written is that if you walk into your condo at Panama City Beach and, after you left your door unlocked, you find a neighbor sleeping on your couch without your permission, you can shoot them in the head. Surely there is a way to allow the former without allowing the latter.


Correction (4.00 / 2)
One correction I just made to my original diary. The duty to retreat did not apply if you were in your own home.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke

Thanks (4.00 / 3)

for the explanation. 

I've seen references to the "castle doctrine" - is this the doctrine that said the duty to retreat did not apply in your own home?   


Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. (Thomas Jefferson)

[ Parent ]
Yes (4.00 / 2)

The 'castle doctrine" allowed someone far wider latitude in using deadly force to defend himself/herself and their families when they were on their own property and particularly in their own home. The most specific example of this was that there was no duty to retreat when you were on your own property and/or in your home.


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke

[ Parent ]
An OP's view (4.00 / 3)

IMHO "stand your ground " is a bad law. First it says that killing someone is preferable to safely retreating which is a sad commentary on relative values.

Second, self defense used to be something a defendant had to prove to a jury's satisfaction. These laws basically reverse the burden of proof by presuming the claim of self defense is valid and requiring the Police to disprove the claim.


All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke

Thank you (4.00 / 2)
You've provided a very helpful explanation.  I've learned a lot from your post and from the subsequent discussion.

Work harder and work smarter!

[ Parent ]



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