Many states have passed Stand-Your-Ground laws, and the media seems determined to spread half-truths and lies about the law--whether maliciously or in ignorance, I can only speculate. As a result of this misinformation campaign, self-defenders need to arm themselves with the facts about the law in order to promote good public policy in their jurisdiction, and in order to ensure they are properly protected from any legal fallout resulting from a misunderstanding of their rights. To that end, here are four myths you will hear about Stand Your Ground laws and the truth about what the law actually says.
Stand Your Ground is NOT a License to Kill
Many mistakenly have heard that stand-your-ground laws are a license to kill. That is far from the truth. In fact, stand-your-ground is not a license to kill--it's relief from the legal burden of proving you could not have retreated from the deadly threat. Those of you who have sat through my self-defense seminars might be wondering, "But Mr. T, I thought you always recommend that you retreat whenever possible." I do, but it is unreasonable for a criminal court to require a defendant to prove they could not have retreated--which is why a vast majority of states now have a stand-your-ground statute.
The only states that actively enforce a duty-to-retreat are (as of April 2017): Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nebraska, North Dakota*, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin*, and Wyoming."
Stand-Your-Ground Does Not Eliminate Risk of Prosecution
There is no place on earth where you face no risk of prosecution after you have exercised the legal right to defend yourself. It is true that in some jurisdictions, you are more likely to suffer prosecution than you are in other areas. A person who uses stand-your-ground as his defense, however, may still be prosecuted if the police and legal system feel that they have a solid case against him.
Stand-Your-Ground and the Castle Doctrine
These two laws are often treated together, because they operate on similar principles. But it's important to know the difference, because your state might adopt only one of the two (or neither of the two) legal doctrines. Whereas a SYG statute removes a self-defender's duty to retreat, a Castle Doctrine statute gives the benefit of the doubt to a self-defender who interprets a home intruder as a deadly threat. In other words, if a bad guy breaks in, you can legally assume that they represent an imminent threat of death or bodily harm.
This concept was in the news recently because of the tragic case in Dallas, where a woman thought she had returned home to her apartment, but was in fact on the identical floor below. When she managed entry into the premises and came face-to-face with an occupant, she barked some commands, and then fatally shot the man when these commands weren't followed.
Colorado is a Castle Doctrine state. If this woman truly believed she was in her own apartment, does this mean she was legally justified in utilizing deadly force against the other occupant? No, no she was not. Here's why:
Remember that there are 5 requirements that need to be met in order for deadly force to be considered justified self-defense: imminence, innocence, proportionality, reasonableness, and (in duty-to-retreat states) avoidance. Even though she might well have had a good-faith belief that she was in her own domicile, the prosecutor is going to argue that a reasonable person would have (1) recognized this was the wrong apartment, and (2) would have utilized a more proportional response. If the prosecution is successful in either of these two arguments, it will be enough to send the woman to prison for manslaughter (although not for murder, since murder requires a level of intent that the prosecution will not be able to prove).
I'm not a lawyer, but it sounds to me like the prosecution has a pretty strong case. But I digress.
SYG Does Not Protect You From the Requirement of Reasonableness
I cannot stress this enough: the ONLY requirement that SYG does away with is the duty to retreat. All 4 of the remaining requirements remain in force! All 4 MUST be proven in order to successfully make a claim of self-defense. If a self-defense case goes to court, then you WILL have to prove that you had a reasonable belief that not acting with deadly force would result in death or serious bodily harm.
Just like this stupid lady in Colorado, the court will ask whether a reasonable person would have believed and acted as you did. They will also try to determine if your response was proportional to the threat, whether you were innocent of initiation or another felony, and whether the threat posed was temporally and spacially near enough to you that it could have constituted an imminent threat. If any one of those pieces are missing, you will be found guilty--EVEN IN A STAND-YOUR-GROUND STATE!
It is essential that you arm yourself with the right information about this law. Since it is a state law, it is highly recommended that you take a look at the provisions of the law before you need to use it.
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