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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Stand Your Ground 101 — Part 1

The attacks on “Stand Your Ground” laws, in Florida and elsewhere, are becoming more numerous. This is dangerous because so many people are woefully ignorant about what such laws do, and more importantly, what they don’t do.
One critic on TV called Florida’s law a “hunting license” and hysterically proclaimed that “you can shoot someone, and all you gotta do is tell police that you were defending yourself, and the cops can’t even detain you!” But not one person on the panel challenged him, leaving the casual viewer wondering if his statement might actually be true.
Absurd? Of course. Anyone familiar with police procedures understands that they can pretty much detain any person for any reason, for as much as 72 hours, depending on the circumstances. But most people have little or no knowledge regarding law enforcement practices.
Surprisingly, some on “our side” often exhibit the same ignorance. In 2012, shortly after the Trayvon Martin shooting, I overheard a conversation in a gun store. One gentleman stated, with absolute conviction, that “in Florida they got that ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, and you can shoot some dude and it don’t matter, ‘cause they can’t prosecute you. You got immunity!”
Reality is quite different. FindLaw is an excellent resource that I often use for basic legal information.  They provide a “quick reference” guide to states with Stand Your Ground laws, as well as those with some form of “duty to retreat” requirement:
“The following is a list of states that have enacted laws specifically affirming one’s right to stand your ground when defending yourself against a serious imminent threat, with no duty to retreat, so long as you are in a place you have a right to be in.States that have adopted a stand your ground doctrine through judicial interpretation of their self-defense laws are not included in this list:
AlabamaArizonaFloridaGeorgiaIndianaKentuckyLouisianaMississippi,MontanaNevadaNew HampshireOklahomaPennsylvaniaTennessee,TexasUtah
As noted above, some states have self-defense laws, either through statute or case law, that are similar to stand your ground laws, but with at least one key difference. These laws generally apply only to the home or other real property (such as an office) and are often referred to as “castle doctrine” or “defense of habitation” laws. These states include:
Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia. 
A substantial minority of states have laws imposing a duty to retreat, with some important variations. The following states impose some form of duty to retreat before deadly self-defense is authorized:
Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Wyoming
Laws on self-defense vary widely from state to state and may have minor, but crucial differences in their language and application. For an in-depth understanding of self-defense laws and how they work in your state, it may be best to check with a local criminal law attorney.” [source: FindLaw]
But remember that statutes are merely the tip of the legal iceberg and tell little about how laws are implemented in the day-to-day administration of the criminal legal system. Remember that “the law” is complex, and from the cop on the street, to the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury, it is always being interpreted differently.
Next week, in Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at Florida…