In the United States, stand-your-ground law states that an individual has no duty to retreat from any place they have lawful right to be and may use any level of force, including lethal, if they reasonably believe they face an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death.
Forty-six U.S. states have adopted the castle doctrine, stating that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked. Twenty-two states have removed the duty to retreat requirement from other locations as well. "Stand Your Ground", "Line in the Sand" or "No Duty to Retreat" laws thus state that a person has no duty or other requirement to abandon a place in which he has a right to be, or to give up ground to an assailant. Under such laws, there is no duty to retreat from anywhere the defender may legally be. Other restrictions may still exist; such as when in public, a person must be carrying firearms in a legal manner, whether concealed or openly.
Effect on crime rates
The law's effect on crime rates is disputed between supporters and critics of the law. Economist John Lott says that states adopting stand-your-ground/castle doctrine laws reduced murder rates by 9 percent and overall violent crime by 11 percent, and that occurs even after accounting for a range of other factors such as national crime trends, law enforcement variables (arrest, execution, and imprisonment rates), income and poverty measures, demographic changes, and the national average changes in crime rates from year-to-year and average differences across states.
A study by Texas A&M economics professors found that the adoption of stand-your-ground laws caused a statistically significant increase in the raw homicide rate, and had only a very small positive effect on deterrence of crime. The authors of the study were unable to determine what percentage of the increase was justifiable homicide, due to the reporting of homicide to the FBI often lacking notation whether the homicide was justifiable or not.
Another analysis of stand-your-ground laws by economists at Georgia State, using monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics, found a significant increase in homicide and injury of whites, especially white males. They also analyzed data from the Health Care Utilization Project, which revealed significantly increased rates of emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to gun injuries in states which enacted these laws.
In a 2007 National District Attorneys Association symposium, numerous concerns were voiced that the law could increase crime. This included criminals using the law as a defense for their crimes, more people carrying guns, and that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict. The report also noted that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger. The report specifically notes that racial and ethnic minorities could be at greater risk because of negative stereotypes.
Florida state representative Dennis Baxley, an author of the law, said that crime rates in Florida dropped significantly between 2005, when the law was passed, and 2012. However, crime rates had been declining nationally, including a 12% decrease in Florida, since at least 2000. Baxley said that he does not believe his law is the main reason for the drop in crime rates in Florida, but may be one of several reasons. Politifact Florida cast doubt on his belief with statistics showing that, from 2005-2007, the number of violent crimes actually rose and the once-declining crime rate stalled after the law took effect, before resuming previous rate of decline in subsequent years.
A new study in the Journal of Human Resources claims that Stand Your Ground laws in states across the U.S. contribute to 600 additional homicides a year. According to Mark Hoestra, co-author of the study: We asked what happened to homicide rates in states that passed these laws between 2000 and 2010, compared to other states over the same time period. We found that homicide rates in states with a version of the Stand Your Ground law increased by an average of 8 percent over states without it — which translates to roughly 600 additional homicides per year. These homicides are classified by police as criminal homicides, not as justifiable homicides.
The following states have adopted stand-your-ground laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts (though the term is used very loosely there), Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina (Stand Your Ground law (N.C.G.S. 14 51.3)), North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Other states (Iowa, Virginia, and Washington) have considered stand-your-ground laws of their own.
For example, Michigan's stand-your-ground law, MCL 780.972, provides that "[a]n individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if . . . [t]he individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent" the imminent death, great bodily harm, or sexual assault of himself or another individual.
Some of the states that have passed or are considering stand-your-ground laws already implement stand-your-ground principles in case law. Indiana and Georgia, among other states, passed stand-your-ground statutes due to possible concerns of existing case law being replaced by the "duty to retreat" in later court rulings. Other states, including California and Virginia, have implemented stand-your-ground judicially but have not adopted statutes. West Virginia had a long tradition of "stand your ground" in its case law before codifying it as a statute in 2008. These states did not have civil immunity for self-defense in their previous self-defense statutes.
Colorado's statutes reflect the common law's "no duty to retreat" rule. Colorado follows the doctrine of no-retreat, which permits non-aggressors who are otherwise entitled to use physical force in self-defense to do so without first retreating, or seeking safety by means of escape. Only initial aggressors must retreat before using force in self-defense. In other words, a person does not have to "retreat to the wall" before using deadly force to defend himself, unless the person was the "initial aggressor" in the encounter, even if he was in a place he had no right to be.
There is no explicit stand-your-ground or castle doctrine provision in the laws of the Czech Republic, however there is also no duty to retreat from an attack and that has an effect similar to "stand your ground" provision. In order for a defense to be judged as legitimate, it may not be manifestly disproportionate to the manner of the attack.
Stand-your-ground laws are frequently criticized and called "shoot first" laws by critics, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In Florida, self-defense claims tripled in the years following enactment. The law's critics argue that Florida's law makes it very difficult to prosecute cases against people who shoot others and then claim self-defense. The shooter can argue that he felt threatened, and in most cases, the only witness who could have argued otherwise is the deceased. However, this claim is inherent to all self-defense laws, not just stand-your-ground laws. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that "[w]hether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used."
In Florida, a task force examining the law heard testimony that the law is "confusing". Those testifying to the task force include Buddy Jacobs, a lawyer representing the Florida Prosecuting Attorney's Association. Jacobs recommended the law's repeal, feeling that modifying the law would not fix its problems. Florida governor Rick Scott plans his own investigation into the law. In a July 16, 2013, speech in the wake of the jury verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of charges stemming from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized stand-your-ground laws as "senselessly expand[ing] the concept of self-defense and sow[ing] dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods." The defendant, George Zimmerman, claims he was restrained at the time of the shooting, thus allowing no option for retreat and making 'stand your ground' irrelevant to the case.Florida's legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow people to show a gun or fire a warning shot during a confrontation without drawing a lengthy prison sentence.
When whites use the stand-your-ground defense against black attackers, some sources claim they are more successful than when African Americans use the defense against white attackers (however, see below). In stand-your-ground states, the use of the defense by whites in the shooting of a black person is found to be justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the defense when used by African-Americans in the shooting of a white person is successful 1 percent of the time. In non-stand-your-ground states, the shooting of a black person by a white is found justified approximately 9 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black is found justified approximately 1 percent of the time. Justifiable homicides have been found to have increased by 8 percent in states with stand-your-ground laws. According to the Urban Institute, in Stand Your Ground states, white-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white homicides. In cases with black or Hispanic victims, the killings were found justified by the Stand Your Ground law 78 percent of the time, compared to 56 percent in cases with white victims.
In 2012, in response to the Trayvon Martin case, the Tampa Bay Times compiled a report on the application of stand your ground, and also created a database of cases where defendants sought to invoke the law. However, their report, contrary to those cited above, found no difference in Florida cases in the way in which defendants claiming self-defense under the law are treated regardless of race, with white subjects being charged and convicted at the same rate as black subjects, and results of mixed-race cases were similar for both white victims of black attackers and black victims of white attackers. Shooters of black attackers overall were more successful at using the law than shooters of white attackers, regardless of the race of the victim claiming self-defense, but analysis showed that black attackers were also more likely to be armed and to be involved in committing a crime, such as burglary, when shot, which may explain this only difference found in relation to race.
In January 2014, retired Tampa police captain Curtis Reeves fatally shot a man named Chad Oulson in a dispute over texting in a Tampa movie theater. Oulson was texting his daughters daycare center during the previews, which Reeves requested he stop, when Oulson refused an argument ensued, which ended with Oulson throwing popcorn in Reeves' face, after which Reeves returned to his seat, collected his gun and shot Oulson once in the chest. Reeves alleges that Oulson threatened him physically and that when the popcorn was thrown, which he claimed he was unable to identify as harmless, he felt in sufficient danger that he believed using lethal force was justified. Oulson's widow, who was present at the shooting, denies that Chad Oulson made any threats towards Reeves, but agreed that popcorn was thrown. Reeves has been arrested and charged with second degree murder but has not yet faced trial, and his apparent intention to use Stand-your-ground as his defense for the killing fueled new controversy over the law, with opponents to the law claiming that Reeves could have simply moved seats or sought aid from theater staff if he felt threatened. The lead investigator in Reeves' case claimed that the consensus among investigators was that the conditions for lethal force to be justified had not been met, whereas legal experts claimed that under the law, the source of the argument and the nature of the thrown object were irrelevant to a Stand-your-ground defense.
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- Florida Statutes Title XLVI Chapter 776
- More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (University of Chicago Press, third edition, 2010).
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- Ala. Code 13A-3-23(b): "A person who is justified under subsection (a) in using physical force, including deadly physical force, and who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground."
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- People v. Toler, 9 P.3d 341 (Colo. 2000)
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- Witnesses of Florida theater killing recall flying popcorn, gunshot at bail hearing By Greg Botelho, CNN Updated 2003 GMT (0403 HKT) February 6, 2014
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