There are a plethora of new laws coming down the pipeline that are somewhat controversial. One such law is the Stand Your Ground Law. In order to truly understand what this law is, what it means, and what it entails, it is necessary to delve a bit deeper into it.
What is the Stand Your Ground Law
Quite simply put, this law is in place to help protect the right of individuals to be in any place. The law states that the individual has no duty to leave any place where they have a lawful right to be and they may use any level of force, including lethal, if they have a reason to believe they are in imminent danger. This means that if someone has a legal right to be somewhere and they are told to leave, they have the right to say no. If the individual then feels threatened or as if they are going to be hurt physically they can then use any level of force necessary to protect themselves and stand their ground. This law helps those individuals protect their right to be in public spaces.
This law basically helps to protect those individuals in the event of a home invasion or attack. If someone breaks into your home, you have the right to defend yourself and your home if you feel that you are in immediate danger. This means essentially that if someone breaks into your home you have the right to use lethal force to protect yourself from them. The law was created to help protect those individuals that do use lethal force to protect their homes and families to keep others from prosecuting them and bringing legal charges up against them.
What States Have Stand Your Ground Laws?
There are currently 46 states in the United States that have Stand Your Ground Laws and they are as follows: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Washington. These states all have some form of the law in place though the specifics of each law vary depending on which state you are in.
There are some debates as to the necessity and effectiveness of this law overall. Some claim that stand your ground states have lower crime rates while others claim that this law allows homeowners to use lethal force without their having to think about what they are doing. Many people claim that this type of law encourages homeowners to use lethal force without first considering what they are doing and how they are affecting the life of the person they are killing. In recent studies there have been results that point to stand your ground law states having higher homicide rates. The study states that those states that have this type of law report an increased homicide rate and injury of whites, especially white males.
The same study claims that the number of emergency room visits regarding and directly related to gun injuries has increased in the states that have these laws in place. Still others claim that the law is going to directly raise crime rates as more people will be less likely to stop and think before they use deadly force in any conflict. Others believe that the law will allow criminals to use the law as a defense for their actions. Another study conducted in Florida by the man that wrote the law states that crime rates in Florida have dropped significantly between 2005 and 2012. Some point to the law as an encouraging factor in the lowering of the crime rate but others claim that the national decline in crime is to blame for this decrease not the law.
Why Are These Laws Criticized?
There are a few distinct reasons that these laws are criticized widely by prosecutors and other law makers. First off, these laws have been dubbed the “shoot first” laws which means that people are going to use deadly force before trying to resolve the conflict in another manner or leaving the conflict all together. There is some relevance to this argument in that those using deadly force will not think as hard about it and about other options as they will be able to use a law as a defense for their actions. This type of law also leads to more people taking swift action before they stop to think about why a person might be around their home. One notable case in which this type of law did not protect the shooter occurred in Detroit, MI.
The shooter, a man named Theodore Wafer shot a 19 year old woman through his screen door. The man shot Renisha McBride in the face with his shotgun after he was awakened by the commotion that she was causing on his front porch. The woman had been drinking and smoking pot and had wrecked her car. The prosecution in the murder trial claims that McBride was not any threat to Wafer though he felt that she was. He shot without looking and that is one reason that people claim this law will cause so much issue.
Another reason that the law is under fire is that the only other witness to the shooting or other lethal force instance is dead and cannot tell their side of the story. This puts the burden of proof on the defense if the case goes to court and on the story that the surviving witness tells of what happened. This makes for a very messy picture as most legal cases require more than one witness to prove innocence or guilt. It then becomes the burden of the defense to make a plausible story that does not need corroboration.
The next issue that people have with the law is that many may claim self defense when it is not really present. Again, since the person doing the home invading or doing the disruption is not present to tell their side of the story, many fear that someone could kill someone and claim self defense without being caught. This may lead to more murder and other issues. Though it will take more research on this aspect of the law, there is a chance that someone can kill or seriously wound another person and claim castle doctrine or self defense when they in fact acted maliciously.
Yet another issue that people have with the law is that it is somewhat confusing and hard to understand for most. As with the case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, there are some difficulties in determining what constitutes self defense and what does not. In this case, the attacker, Martin, was accused of making Zimmerman feel as if he was in danger of death to which he responded with deadly force. There were plenty of pieces of evidence that showed that Martin may not have been the assailant that Zimmerman felt he was, but since Martin was not alive to defend himself, Zimmerman was acquitted.
The argument that the law is confusing is grounded mainly in the fact that it has plenty of legal jargon that does not translate well to laymen’s speak. This means that it has plenty of words that do not really make sense to those that may have to use the law to protect themselves. The confusion also pertains to firearms and showing or firing a warning shot without any repercussions. In most cases, people are confused as to whether or not this would constitute self defense or not.
Still another issue with the law is the fact that when whites use the stand your ground defense against blacks it is often more successful than when the reverse is true. In many cases, people claim that the law is biased and that it is not geared toward minorities. Many claim that these laws are geared more toward the white public than toward other minorities and that this is another reason the law should be repealed or at the very least amended.
One analysis showed that black attackers were more likely to be armed when involved in committing a crime which made them far more susceptible to use of the stand your ground laws against them. Regardless of race, these laws are somewhat confusing and can lead to tons of issues if the person using them as a defense has no business doing so.
How Effective are These Laws?
There is some debate as to the effectiveness of these laws and as of yet there has been little research done to prove that they are working or not working. However, there has been an increase by 8% of justifiable homicide rulings in the United States since the law was put into effect. There are still plenty of studies being done to see just what impact these laws have on the country. Overall, crime is decreasing in the United States for several reasons. More people are employed, more people are recovering from the economic downturn, and more people are better off then they have been in past days. Also, more individuals are getting educated which leads to lower crime rates.
Overall the law has had no real effect on crime rates but rather an effect on the outcomes of crime after the fact. More people are trying to use the castle doctrine as a defense and plenty of people are successful in this measure. Though success may be somewhat limited, they are helping some. Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius for example, the runner was sent to trial last year for shooting his girlfriend multiple times through the door of the bathroom in their shared home. Pistorius claimed that he did not know his girlfriend was coming home that night, which was Valentine’s day, and that he shot thinking that it was an intruder. After Pistorius shot through the toilet cubicle door, he then broke the door down and carried her body down the stairs to the bottom of the stairs.
The double amputee also stated that since he had his prosthetics off to sleep, he felt especially vulnerable which caused him to shoot so many times. Pistorius claimed that he shot in self defense though neighbors claim that they heard his girlfriend screaming through the shots for help. Pistorius was not found guilty of murder, despite the evidence that was stacked against him, instead he was sentenced to house arrest and a minimal prison sentence.
Should the Laws Remain?
There is plenty of debate as to whether or not these laws should be kept. There are plenty of studies being done to determine the effect of these laws on the public and on the crime rate of the country as a whole. There are still four states, Hawaii, Arkansas, Colorado, and Connecticut. These states have declined to put these laws in place for their own specific reasons and many state that these are the only states with any sense in the matter. There is still intense debate as to whether or not these laws actually help the crime rate or encourage people to shoot first and ask questions later.
Though in previous days there were very few laws to help protect those that kill in self defense, some claim these laws go too far and should therefore be repealed in favor of laws that protect those being attacked as well as the attacker to a certain measure. There are sure to be plenty of studies done to determine how these laws affect the crime rate and until there have been plenty of studies done, there is no real way to determine how the laws are affecting the crime rates and what can be done to amend them so that they are a bit more fair and a bit harder to manipulate in favor of the person using deadly force. These laws, like so many are both a help and a hindrance when they are not used properly.