In the United States, a stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law) is a law that authorizes an individual to protect and defend their own life and limb against threat or perceived threat. This law states that an individual has no duty to retreat from any place the individual has a lawful right to be and may use any level of force, including lethal, if the individual reasonably believes they face an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm or death.
The castle doctrine applies in 45 US jurisdictions and in Guam, which gives immunity from liability to individuals (ie., there is no duty to retreat) when an intruder enters their home. Of these, twenty-two jurisdictions have also extended the immunity to other locations, some extending it to anywhere where they may legally be.
The states that have adopted stand-your-ground laws are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, 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, 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, such as 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.
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 daughter's 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 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. Reeves was charged with second-degree murder, and a trial date has been set for 2016.
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 individuals 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. 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.
Research into how race affects outcomes of stand your ground cases has resulted in mixed answers, with some sources claiming significant racial disparity, while others find no bias.
A Texas A&M study, found that when whites use the stand-your-ground defense against black attackers they are more successful than when blacks use the defense against white attackers A paper from The Urban Institute which analysed FBI data found that 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 blacks 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. 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. The paper's author noted that the data used do not detail the circumstances of the shooting, which could be a source of the disparity. They also noted that the total number of shootings in the FBI dataset of black victims by whites was 25. A 2015 study found that cases with white victims are two times more likely to result in convictions under these laws than cases with black 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.
Effect on crime rates
The laws' effect on crime rates is disputed between supporters and critics of the laws. Justifiable homicides have been found to have increased by 8 percent in states with stand-your-ground laws. 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. One study 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.
In 2012, a study was published which found that after the Joe Horn shooting controversy in 2007 publicized Texas' stand-your-ground law, burglaries decreased significantly in Houston, but not in Dallas.
A 2013 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."
A 2015 study found that the adoption of Oklahoma's stand-your-ground law was associated with a decrease in residential burglaries, but also that the law had "the unintended consequence of increasing the number of non-residential burglaries."
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.
German law allows self-defense against an unlawful attack. If there is no other possibility for defense, it is generally allowed to use even deadly force without a duty to retreat. However must not be an extreme inadequacy ("extremes Missverhältnis") between the defended right and the chosen way of defense. In particular in case of the use of firearms there must be given a warning shot when defending solely a material asset. Nevertheless, because of the low circulation of firearms in Germany the impact of this law is not all that strong.
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