Last week, when we commented on the recent “handicapped parking” incident in Florida, I mentioned how the media had been trying to make “stand your ground” laws the issue. They’ve continued their assault — especially in local programming.
Activists have begun resurrecting the 2012 George Zimmerman case, which has virtually no similarities to the current incident. Such uninformed and misleading comparisons only obscure, distort and inflame the issue unnecessarily, leading to partisan politics.
Unfortunately, far too many people — especially in the media — do not truly understand “stand your ground” laws. Even those in the carry community often express the dangerously mistaken belief that “stand your ground” laws offer a kind of absolute protection in a self-defense case. They don’t.
Even with “stand your ground,” the fundamental, common-law elements of self-defense always apply. For example, if you provoke a confrontation which escalates into a deadly force scenario, “stand your ground” will not help you. Likewise, you will have to convince a jury that it was reasonable for you to fear death or great bodily harm.
The exact wording of statutes varies somewhat from state to state, but most “stand your ground” laws essentially remove the normal legal requirement to retreat before using deadly force in self-defense. But why? After all, there is a long-standing, common-law principle that one should at least attempt to retreat from a threatening situation before resorting to lethal force. Most rational people would agree that if there is a way to extricate oneself from a bad situation without having to harm or kill someone, it is a good idea to do just that.
However, the push for “stand your ground” laws came about in response to overly zealous prosecutors abusing the concept of “retreat,” often to the point of absurdity. An example would be telling a jury that because the defendant did not run over a dozen parked cars, jump out a window and then hide in a dumpster, he or she did not fulfill the requirement to retreat. It is ridiculous, of course, but I have heard arguments from prosecutors that were almost that silly.
Another related issue is that currently in many states, you can be found not guilty of any crime — or never even be charged — yet still be sued in civil court. Most people would find that situation grossly unfair. To prevent such lawsuits, some “stand your ground” statutes also include clauses that provide civil protections unless you have been convicted of a crime.
Note that “stand your ground” itself does not protect you from lawsuits. Unless your state has specific statutes covering civil protections, I would strongly suggest that you get together with like-minded activists to push for them. You don’t want to be completely exonerated in the criminal court system only to lose your house and savings in civil court.
Another thing to remember is that “stand your ground” is not automatic; you have to claim it. In most cases, your attorney presents your case in a preliminary hearing, in which a judge listens to the evidence and then decides if “stand your ground” applies. If so, you are then able to claim it as part of your defense at trial.
“Stand your ground” helps, but it is not some sort of legal Kevlar vest. So, be aware, follow the rules, and avoid confrontations in the first place. Then, if the worst happens, follow your attorney’s instructions to the letter.