Monday, March 26, 2012

Stand Your Ground Laws

I can see some point to the controversial Stand Your Ground laws, even though I agree with critics that something is seriously wrong when those sorts of laws can be used to excuse George Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin. I'm saying this, not as a lawyer or an expert, but as someone who has begun learning about what those laws are.

I was thinking about this issue after I watched last night's episode of Desperate Housewives. In the story-arc for this season, the ladies have been trying to cover up Carlos' killing of Gabrielle's step-father, Alejandro, who raped Gabrielle when she was a teenager and returned into her life years later to threaten her. Carlos whacked Alejandro on the head (and I think it was the back of the head) when Alejandro was giving the impression to Gabrielle that he had a gun and was implying his intention to rape Gabrielle. But Alejandro did not actually have a gun, and so Carlos feared going to jail for killing an unarmed man. That's why the ladies buried Alejandro's body and have been trying to cover up what Carlos did throughout this season.

But couldn't Carlos come forward to the police and claim self-defense? I don't know. A salient feature of Stand Your Ground laws is that they say that a person does not have to retreat before defending oneself from an assailant (see here). A person can stand his ground, in short. As I look at wikipedia's summary of Florida's law, my impression is that, had Carlos lived in Florida, he would have been able to claim self-defense, even though he did not retreat before he whacked Alejandro from behind. The reason is that Carlos was protecting his wife from an attacker. But suppose that Carlos lived in a state that required him to retreat before using deadly force, perhaps to show that he was the one who was defending himself as opposed to being the attacker? In that case, I doubt that he could claim self-defense.

But should the Stand Your Ground law get George Zimmerman off the hook? Jeb Bush, who signed the bill into law when he was Governor, says that he did not envision the law being carried out in that manner, for Zimmerman was the one who was following Trayvon Martin. I think that I can see the purpose behind Stand Your Ground, but I wonder if there's a way for the law to be written so that it cannot be abused----so that it cannot allow people to shoot others unnecessarily in cold blood and to claim self-defense.

UPDATE: As often turns out to be the case when I write posts like this, the issue is more nuanced than I thought. This article says the following:

"Florida's increasingly controversial 'stand your ground' law was passed in 2005, eliminating the requirement that a person seek an alternative -- like fleeing -- before using force if they felt they were in physical danger. The National Rifle Association and other advocates had argued that citizens were being arrested for merely defending themselves.

"Florida, like many other states, has long held that citizens have the right to defend themselves in their own homes. Court rulings have expanded that right to include employees in workplaces and drivers in their cars. But there was long a reluctance to extend those rights to public places, so judges had ruled that citizens under threat must make some alternative attempt to violence to escape danger.

"In 2005, the Florida House of Representatives voted 94-20 in favor of a new, 'stand your ground' bill that eliminated the requirement to flee."

My understanding is this: Even before the 2005 Stand Your Ground law, Carlos would have been able to claim self-defense, since Alejandro was threatening Gabrielle in Carlos' own home. If this occurred in a public place, however, Carlos and Gabrielle would have to seek an alternative----like fleeing----before using deadly force. But the 2005 Stand Your Ground law gets rid of the requirement that people retreat before using deadly force in a public place.

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