Stand Your Ground Laws Explained
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Stand Your Ground Laws Explained

One of the most notorious stand your ground cases involved George Zimmerman. The Florida case made national news, not the least of which occurred after Zimmerman was found not guilty by a Florida jury after they determined that he had used legitimate self-defense under the law. The Michael Dunn trial resulted in a hung jury.

These cases demonstrate the complexity of stand your ground principles and how far self-defense can go. Some important considerations include: 

State Laws Vary

Self-defense is usually a defense raised in a case based on a state law charge, such as murder or battery. The stand your ground law that was made very public during the Zimmerman trial does not apply to all states. There are generally three different approaches that states have in order from the most restrictive to the least restrictive when permitting the use of self-defense in a case:

Duty to Retreat

Some jurisdictions require a person to attempt to remove himself or herself from a threatening situation by retreating from it, if possible. This is the rule followed by about 20 states. If there is a reasonable opportunity to retreat, this must be attempted before self-defense will be found to be justify the use of deadly force. Additionally, the person raising a self-defense argument cannot be the person who provoked the attacker or escalated the situation. 

Castle Doctrine

The Castle Doctrine is another approach. It incorporates the duty to retreat in most situations. However, if the intruder comes into the home of another, the homeowner can use deadly force to protect himself or herself without having to retreat somewhere else. However, the homeowner must reasonably believe that he or she is in imminent danger of serious injury or death. Therefore, even if the homeowner would generally have the duty to retreat if the attack occurred outside the home, if the attack occurs inside the home, deadly force can be justified. 

Stand Your Ground

The Stand Your Ground doctrine is different than the other two approaches and finds that a person is justified in using deadly force in order to protect himself or herself from serious injury or death. This defense can be asserted inside and outside the home, as well as in public places. The person has no duty to retreat. Such force can be used only when the one asserting it does so to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. Additionally, the Stand Your Ground doctrine can be used to protect others in many states. 

When the Defense Arises

The defense of self-defense arises in cases such as murder, homicide or manslaughter. Just because a person believes that he or she was justified in using self-defense does not mean that the prosecutor cannot charge the individual with a criminal offense. If the individual does not raise this defense at trial, he or she may waive the ability to do so. Some jurisdictions require the duty to retreat while others do not. 

Deadly Force Justified

The question on self-defense cases is whether the use of force was justified. Typically, the defendant is only able to use the same amount of force that the aggressor is using or only that force which is reasonably necessary to respond to the defense. Deadly force is only to be used as a last resort. Property cannot be protected by the use of deadly force in most situations. 

Alternatives to Self Defense 

There are often alternatives to administering self defense. These may be relied upon when a dangerous situation arises in order to prevent the potential consequences of being charged with a crime. Law enforcement may be able to be called if someone is lurking around or is making threats. An order of protection can keep someone far away from another person. 

Proving Self Defense

It can often be difficult to prove self defense. In some situations, it is a case of he-said, she-said. In other cases, the victim is dead and cannot speak for himself or herself. However, the prosecutor may pursue the argument that the defendant was the aggressor. If other witnesses were there, they may be subpoenaed in order to present their observations to the jury. In some cases, an expert witness may be called in order to explain how the fight must have been in order for the particular injuries to occur. 

Legal Assistance

Individuals who are facing criminal charges that involved self defense may choose to contact a criminal defense lawyer. He or she may explain the defendant’s rights and the rules regarding self defense in the jurisdiction where the charges are pending.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
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