Posted By Levi
According to one of the jurors who acquitted George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, the jury was told to take into consideration Florida’s “stand your ground” laws in their deliberations.
What are these laws and how might they have contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin?
There is an old common law principle called the “Castle Doctrine.” This doctrine says that if an intruder invaded your home, you have the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect your home and yourself. It’s from the old dictum “a man’s home is his castle,”and, as such, you have the right to protect it. Sounds fairly reasonable.
However, in 2005 Florida became the first state to expand the premise of the castle doctrine outside the home and into public spaces. The state passed a set of laws known as “stand your ground” laws.
The law states that “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
Over 30 states have followed Florida’s example and passed similar laws.
Before these laws were passed, most states required that if you faced a confrontation in a public space, such as in a bar or standing at the corner, and you feel threatened, your first obligation is to retreat in order to avoid the risk of violence.
This is simply good common sense. Of course, if the person continues to threaten you even after you have retreated you may have no alternative but to use deadly force. In such situation you can claim self-defense but you still have to prove to the court that you made every attempt to retreat and avoid a conflict.
But under “stand your ground ” laws you have no obligation to retreat. You do what the law says, you stand your ground and if you feel your life is in danger, you have the right to use force, including deadly force, to protect yourself. The only requirement is that you “reasonable believe” that your life is in danger. The problem here, of course, is that people view threats differently.
The much bigger problem is that these laws have become “shoot first, ask questions later” laws. They give people the right to use deadly force even if the person threatening you is unarmed. They give justification to those people who are incline to use force. There is no need for these laws because existing laws in every state already protect the right to use reasonable force in certain situations.
“Stand your ground” laws have led to some outrageous shooting incidents. For some, it has become a license to kill. See here, for example.
The Tampa Bay Times did some investigations of these laws. It reported that in 2010 “justifiable homicides”—i.e., killings that were deemed legitimate—have skyrocketed in Florida over several years since the “stand your ground” law went into effect.
According to their report
• Those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.
• Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.
• People often go free under “stand your ground” in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.
These laws are the result of America’s unhealthy obsession with guns. They have been actively pushed by the NRA and its supporters.
Citizens in states that have these laws must actively campaign to repeal them. Failure to do so is only going to result in more Trayvon Martins.
Here are the states with stand your ground laws.