In defense of self

by Philip Yabut in

The controversy and rancor over the tragic shooting of Florida teenager Treyvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, has put a spotlight on so-called "stand your ground" laws that 18 states currently have in force.  Basically, stand your ground is a further expansion of the common law self-defense doctrine that every state has codified in various degrees.

The common law self-defense doctrine allows for the use of justifiable force to protect your or someone else's life.  The elements are that you are a non-aggressor that must have reasonable belief that force is necessary to protect yourself from the imminent use of unlawful force by another person, and that your response must be in kind (in other words, you cannot use deadly force if your life is not threatened).  Deadly force is permissible if your life is in danger, and -- most importantly -- there is a duty to retreat if the opportunity presents itself.

The so-called "Castle doctrine" expands common-law self-defense by removing the duty to retreat if threatened with bodily harm in your home.  27 states have passed a version of this rule.

A number of states have passed "stand-your-ground" laws, which further expand self-defense by removing the duty to retreat in situations outside the home. If you feel threatened anywhere, you can "stand your ground" and defend yourself, and the law grants immunity from prosecution for homicide or manslaughter.  Florida's rule is now under the media and legal microscope in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

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