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Stand Your Ground?

  • 2012-07-16 11:03:46 by Eric

    NOTE: I am NOT an attorney, and nothing stated here should be construed as legal advice!

    There appears to be a major misconception among the public in this country as to the meaning of the "Stand Your Ground" laws that many states have now enacted.

    Stand Your Ground laws do not mean that a person must stand their ground, or even that they should stand their ground.  It simply means that under certain specific conditions a person may Stand Their Ground.  These laws were enacted to change existing laws that had mandated that a citizen had a duty to retreat from assailants.  When confronted, the law favored the assailant! Just like the Mayor of Washington D.C. recently called for citizens to learn to be better victims, submitting to their muggers, attackers, etc. It would appear though, that the majority of people don't think that's how things should be, so many states have now enacted Stand Your Ground laws.

    As I said, these laws do not mean that you must or even should Stand Your Ground!.  It simply means that you may Stand Your Ground and have no duty to retreat.  That said, it is only prudent to avoid such situations in the first place, and should such a situation arise, your first thoughts should go to seeking a safe path upon which to retreat.  Only when those opportunities have been exhausted should you actually stand to confront an assailant.

    Even then, when you see no way out and elect to Stand Your Ground, you do not necessarily have the right to use (or even threaten) deadly force unless the situation has escalated to the point that you feel that you yourself are threatened with death or grievous bodily injury... AND even then you must be the innocent victim of the attack which means that you did not either instigate the confrontation or escalate it. For instance, if you shoved someone, they took a swing at you, you punched them and they produced a knife... your rights to then respond with deadly force to this threat may be extremely limited. In this case, you would likely be seen as the instigator of the confrontation, not an innocent victim. In that case, you do not qualify for a Stand Your Ground defense. Now let's say someone shoves you first, you throw a punch, and they produce a knife or gun. Again, you escalated the situation by throwing a punch, and may thus have again placed yourself outside the bounds of a Stand Your Ground defense.

    Stand Your Ground laws were designed to protect innocent victims such as those walking down the street or across a parking lot from muggers, rapists or other assailants that may descend upon them, or from persons that would illegally enter your home (i.e. home invasion).  Anything other than being the innocent victim of an unprovoked attack may not garner Stand Your Ground law protection.

    In just those terms, let's consider the basics of the Trevon Martin case.  George Zimmerman was admittedly following Trevon Martin, against the advice of a 911 operator with whom he spoke.  I don't know the Florida laws, but such an action may be considered illegal stalking.  Whether it is or not, by the "reasonable man" test I believe that many people would consider being followed (or stalked) to be at least some sort of provocation.  If it was a provocation, that might place Mr. Zimmerman outside the protections afforded to an innocent victim of an unprovoked attack, and thus outside the protection of the Stand Your Ground law.  All this of course, will depend greatly on the wording of Florida's laws.

    There are reports that Trevon Martin was seen on top of Mr. Zimmerman "beating his head into the ground".  What we don't know (other than for Mr. Zimmerman's account) is who started that confrontation. Did Mr. Zimmerman throw the first punch?  Or did he show his weapon (whether he actually drew it or not) which Trevon interpreted as a deadly threat?  We don't know.  This is certainly not a clear cut case which can be simply dismissed under the Stand Your Ground law; there are too many unanswered questions.

    The point of all this is rather simple.  Stand Your Ground laws should not be considered to provide you with any special license or privilege other than to remain (if you choose to do so) in a place where you have a legal right to be, and as long as you do not instigate or escalate a situation that is outside the law or has the possibility of escalating to a situation outside the law; it lets you innocently be in a place, period.  Everything past that falls under other laws (i.e. Use of Force, etc.).

    One of the key areas we cover in many of our classes is "Situational Awareness"; being aware of your surroundings, and recognizing and avoiding situations that may potentially put you in harm's way.  Many situations can be avoided by simply paying attention to the world around you, and if your recognize a possible problem, either avoid it if possible, or plan an "escape route" (retreat) if you cannot avoid it.  If that fails, you still have the right (under Stand Your Ground) to be where you are (if you are there legally); you then have the right to defend yourself, but that defense must still be in accordance with local weapons, Use of Force, and other applicable laws.  If a mugger simply asks for your wallet without threatening you with bodily harm, you have no right to produce a gun and shoot him; in only gives you the right to say "No", if you so choose.  If it escalates past that point, every threat or action still must conform to Use of Force laws, usually being that the response must correspond to, and be commensurate with the mugger's threat or action. 

    Now understand that I am not an attorney, (although we will use attorneys in various of our classes to discuss this and other subjects), and cannot give anyone legal advice.  That said, I always tell people that in any confrontation "Discretion is the better part of valor", and to "Err on the side of safety".  Just because you may have the "Right" to be somewhere or to do (or not do) something does not make it the "Right" thing to do.

    Many people now have the "Right" (via law, permit, license) to carry a concealed weapon; but along with that "Right" comes the implicit responsibility to conduct one's self in a manner such that you decrease to the greatest extent possible the need to produce it (in public), much less use it.  Remember, If you are carrying a concealed weapon, every interaction you have is an "armed" interaction.

    Finally, most of the high-profile publicity being given to what are billed as "Stand Your Ground" law cases have led to many calling for "Stand Your Ground" laws to be repealed.  Those people don't understand two things: First, that the "Stand Your Ground" part of the law does NOT give you the right to perform any action, period.  It only gives the right to an innocent, non-provoking individual to stay in a place he or she is legally allowed to be.  That's it.  It does not give them the right to produce or use a weapon, throw a punch, or even give a verbal threat.  Anything action they take, or anything they may say must still be in compliance with all other laws including laws governing free speech, Use of Force, weapons, concealed carry, etc.  Second, The reason these cases are of such controversy is that they are billed as Stand Your Ground cases, but we should wait for the courts to adjudicate them; (I believe) we may find that these cases did NOT in fact fall under the extents of that law.  What I do think is that returning to laws that make it a victim's duty to retreat from an assailant is absolutely the wrong thing to do!

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