Monday, July 15, 2013

State 'stand your ground' laws make it difficult to prove someone wasn't acting in self-defense

While George Zimmerman's defense never specifically mentioned Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law in his trial for shooting unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, jurors were instructed before deliberating to consider the law, "which eliminated a citizen’s 'duty to retreat' before using lethal force in the face of a deadly threat," David Ovalle writes for the Miami Herald. “Under the law, the defense has no burden to prove anything. Only prosecutors must prove a case, beyond a reasonable doubt. And under the stand-your-ground law, that meant they had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense."

Legal analysts say the prosecution never came close to proving its case, and as a result, Zimmerman was found not-guilty, Ovalle writes. Jude M. Faccidomo, former president of Miami’s Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the jury clearly believed in the right to self-defense: “Especially when cases are so gray, like this one was, self-defense really resonates because people can associate with being afraid.” (Read more)

At least 22 states have stand your ground laws, "with varying degrees of requirements for when citizens may use deadly force to protect themselves," Maggie Clark writes for Stateline. "Before these new laws were put in place beginning in 2005, people who felt threatened outside their home were required to flee from an attacker before they were allowed to use force to defend themselves." Florida's law "allows people to defend themselves with force if they feel threatened in their home, business, car, or a place where they 'have a legal right to be.'" Zimmerman wasn't initially charged with a crime, because police couldn't disprove his self-defense claim, and he was only arrested once the case drew national attention. Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Democrat, said stand your ground “does a disservice to Floridians because it’s so vague." (Read more)

Many states have enacted stand your ground laws, and 16 states -- Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah -- have the laws on the books, according to FindLaw. For a list of each of the states' laws click here.

UPDATE, July 16: Attorney General Eric Holder condemned "stand your ground" laws in a speech to the NAACP, saying they “sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods . . . allowing – and perhaps encouraging – violent situations to escalate in public.” For a report from The Washington Post, click here.

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