What does stand your ground mean and what does the law say? “Stand your ground” self-defense laws, allow armed individuals who believe they are in imminent danger to use deadly force. That is the short version.
Stand Your Ground Laws at a Glance
Stand your ground laws are essentially a revocation of the duty to retreat. Stand your ground laws generally state that, under certain circumstances, individuals can use force to defend themselves without first attempting to retreat from the danger.
The purpose behind these laws is to remove any confusion about when individuals can defend themselves and to eliminate prosecutions of people who legitimately used self-defense even though they had not attempted to retreat from the threat.
n many states with stand your ground laws, a claim of self-defense under a stand your ground law offers immunity from prosecution rather than an affirmative defense. This means that, rather than presenting a self-defense argument at an assault trial, for example, an individual could claim self-defense under the state’s stand your ground law and avoid trial altogether.
States with Stand Your Ground laws differ on whether the law applies to instances involving lethal force, with some states retaining the duty to retreat when lethal force is involved and others removing the duty to retreat under all circumstances.
Florida law shifts ‘stand your ground’ burden of proof
In June of 2017, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law and became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground”hearings.
The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it will make their job more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.
That led Republicans to seek to shift that burden. They argued that it protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty. But opponents said it will embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.
Only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof — Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — and all place it on defendants.
Stand Your Ground vs. Castle Doctrine
The so-called castle doctrine is similar to stand your ground, but is typically limited to real property, including one’s home or place of business (and sometimes even one’s automobile). The idea is that individuals have a right to be safe and secure within their own home (or “castle”) and thus should not have to retreat from their home in order to be safe. Practically speaking, this means homeowners in states that recognize the castle doctrine may use lethal force against intruders without retreating.
Duty to Retreat
It is impossible to discuss stand your ground laws without first explaining the concept of the duty to retreat. In its most extreme form, the duty to retreat states that a person who is under an imminent threat of personal harm must retreat from the threat as much as possible before responding with force in self-defense. Nearly half of U.S. states adhere to this standard, including New York, Iowa, and Hawaii.
These days, states that retain this duty generally incorporate a variety of the duty with somewhat less stringent requirements.
Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.
Controversy over Stand Your Ground
Stand your ground laws are often criticized as encouraging violence. Critics claim that the laws lead to a “shoot first, ask questions later” attitude that results in more injuries and deaths than would occur without the law.
Proponents of stand your ground counter that the laws allow people to protect themselves without worrying about whether they have retreated sufficiently before using force.
I believe in the Castle Doctrine for sure. If someone invades your home you have the right to defend that place and the people in it. To me, that situation is cut and dry.
The Stand your Ground law is more problematic for a number of reasons. Will people feel emboldened to reach for their gun without understanding the totality of the act they may commit? A bystander may get shot, does a person deserve to dye for maybe having a bad day? How does law enforcement instantly recognize a shooting?
Law Enforcement has a hard-enough job as it is. If you add the possibility of a person who is quick to pull a gun, where does that lead us? Just because you have a gun, doesn’t mean you have the right to use that gun and take a life.
Just my views – Larry Lawton
Was the shooting in Clearwater, Florida justified or not? You make the call.
About the author: Larry Lawton is an Author, TV Personality, Speaker, Teen/Young Adult Expert and Law Enforcement Consultant. Larry developed the nationally recognized Reality Check Program and Reality Check Video Card Program.
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In August of 2013, Larry was the first ex-con in the United States to be sworn in as an Honorary Police Officer in the city of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri and in November 2013, Larry was the first ex-con recognized on the Floor of the United States Congress for his work with helping young people and law enforcement agencies.
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