Does Anyone Actually Know What A “Stand Your Ground” Law Means?

 

As we’ve been following the media coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting and its aftermath one fact stands clear: the press has no frickin’ clue what a “stand your ground”  (SYG) law actually means. Here’s Michigan’s version: “An 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 either of the following applies . . .

a) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or herself or to another individual.

(b) The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent sexual assault of himself or herself or of another individual.

(2) An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he or she uses force other than deadly force may use force other than deadly force against another individual anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if he or she honestly and reasonably believes that the use of that force is necessary to defend himself or herself or another individual from the imminent unlawful use of force by another individual.

According to the media, all you have to do is think someone’s trying to kill you to kill them. Uh, no. Here are three important quotes from the law to keep in mind.

1. “An individual who has not or is not engaged in the commission of a crime . . .”

Folks, it’s a crime to assault someone. If a citizen like, say, George Martin assaulted someone like, say, Trayvon Martin, then he is committing a crime. Then the stand your ground law does not apply.

2. “The individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary . . .” 

The media loves the bit about “honestly”; they believe Stand Your Ground laws allow stupid people to use lethal force if they’re stupid enough to think they or other innocent people are about to be killed, grievously harmed, raped or generally messed with. Not true. Honestly, “honestly” is not the critical word. That word is “reasonably.”

In order for a person to “reasonably” believe that they or another innocent person are facing a life-or-limb or sexually invasive attack, the attack must meet three well-established criteria: ability, opportunity and jeopardy (AOJ). The bad guy must have the ability to harm them (e.g., holding a weapon), the opportunity to do so (e.g. they’re within striking distance) and threat must be imminent (in the process of happening).

If AOJ ain’t in play, using lethal force against another human being is not considered reasonable and is, therefore, illegal. As in murder. Who decides if the AOJ boxes were ticked-off? The legal system. The police, prosecutor, District Attorney, Judge and/or jury.

They must analyze the shooting according to the “reasonable person” test. Would a reasonable person have believed that AOJ was present at the time of the otherwise lethal, limb-destroying or sexually molesting attack? There’s your “honestly believes” bit.

[Remember: this theoretic "reasonable" person is not a moron or someone with no control over their emotions.]

3. ” . . . anywhere he or she has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat . . .”

It may seem like a small point but the “legal right to be” where you are is an important caveat. If you’re walking down the street (even if you’re following someone), you have the legal right to be there. So you may defend yourself with lethal force if necessary—without being legally obliged to run away—if you’re attacked in an AOJ sort of way.

If, however, you’re in someone’s house without their permission like, say, a burglar, you do NOT have the right to use lethal force against an attacker. Conversely, if someone’s trespassing on your home/business, you are allowed to use lethal force if the AOJ’s green light’s lit.

This is an important change in the law. It removes so-called “criminal rights” during the commission of a crime. It skews any fight—and legal aftermath—in the victim’s favor. Where it belongs.

Clear? Sure it is. So why are so many journalists too lazy to read what is, in fact, a pretty simple law? That’s above my pay grade. But when a legislator doesn’t know WTF he’s talking about, well, that’s just sad.

And here’s the sad truth from the man above: Tim Bledsoe, Grosse Pointe’s man in the Michigan House of Representatives [via freep.com].

I had mostly forgotten this encounter when, several blocks later, I happened to look back and see this man, in his car, following me. He continued to follow until I got home, at which time I confronted him.

By this time I was angry. The words we exchanged were heated and unprintable here. He remained adamant of my guilt [of discarding a tossing a bag dog sh1t inappropriately], if perhaps disappointed that I had failed to toss my bag in an incriminating way. I was furious that he was stalking me as though I were a criminal.

The incident did not escalate beyond words, but it easily could have. If it had, would he have been justified in pulling a gun and shooting me, claiming his right to “stand his ground,” even if the ground he was standing on was directly in front of my home?

C’mon, really? Escalated how? Does Bledsoe not understand the idea of “life-threatening” or is he just being willfully dense? I’m thinking yes to both . . .

In the aftermath of the Trayvon case in Florida, it is more likely that vigilante justice will happen in the states that have so-called Stand Your Ground laws, Michigan among them. The media coverage of this shooting sends a clear message in these states: If you seek a confrontation and then find yourself physically threatened, you can kill with impunity.

There is another way that my incident differs from the case in Florida: As a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, I can seek to change the law and reduce the likelihood of future incidents like this in Michigan.

I recently requested the Legislative Service Bureau to prepare a bill repealing the Stand Your Ground law in Michigan. My proposal will not diminish people’s right to protect themselves when they face a threat to their lives or risk serious physical harm. They can defend their homes as their castles.

But we should remove any legal ambiguity about people placing themselves directly in the path of another, drawing a line in the sand, and then using deadly force when the line is crossed.

Wow. I’d pay to see this guy meet-up with the NRA lobbyist. Luckily, Michigan residents won’t have to pay for Bledsoe’s ignorance. One hopes. [h/t John Fritz]

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

23 Responses to Does Anyone Actually Know What A “Stand Your Ground” Law Means?

  1. avatarMark Smith says:

    Journalists aren’t lawyers.

    The devil is in the details with this shooting. Was George Martin on public property? Private? If not public property (someone’s backyard, I believe), what right did he have to be there?

    Did an unarmed teenager present a reasonable threat?

    This would be a heck of a court case on the best of days.

    • avatartdiinva says:

      Apparently he was sitting on George Zimmerman’s chest and beating him when he got shot. If Martin attacked Zimmerman as he claimed then getting your head banged against concrete constitutes a reasonable threat.

  2. avatarjokr8790 says:

    Yeah, that’s the official text. The unwritten and intended message in such laws is you’re allowed to whack a ni**er and we enacted this law so you could walk. I would really like to see the public reaction should an African-American shoot a white person and rely on “Stand Your Ground” as a defense.

    • avatarParthenon says:

      We wouldn’t react because we wouldn’t hear about it.

    • avatarMark Smith says:

      The reaction probably would be ‘he was guilty and got off on a technicality.’

      Oddly the same as the public opinion about Zimmerman if he’s found not guilty in the end.

      As any politician will tell you, it’s not about whether you’re guilty or not, it’s whether you *appear* guilty to the public at large.

      • avatarMikeS says:

        And what if, despite such negative reactions of the public, said AA individual was protected by the law, and went free, because he honestly and reasonably feared that said white individual meant to kill him, and SYG protected him?

        Would it be racist then?

        That’s the POINT OF SYG. To protect individuals from abusive prosecution for defending themselves when evidence indicates their actions were justified.

    • avatarTTACer says:

      I bet the KKK would offer a bounty, and whoever the whitest filmmaker in the world is (Wes Anderson?) would tweet an elderly black couple’s address in hopes that they would be harassed and possibly killed. Then they would all riot and burn their own neighborhoods and loot their own businesses.

  3. avatarRC says:

    “may use force other than deadly force against another individual”

    Does this mean that in Michigan I can load my first shotgun round with a beanbag/rubber or similar less-than-lethal ammo? Some people have argued this constitutes intent to cause injury or similar, but how else do I interpret “other than deadly force”?

    Yeah, I know the safety implications of not shooting to kill, but I’m a huge believer in the Ten Commandments (“Thou shall not kill”) and I’m only asking from a LEGAL perspective anyways!

  4. avatarTom says:

    In the aftermath of the Trayvon case in Florida, it is more likely that vigilante justice will happen in the states that have so-called Stand Your Ground laws, Michigan among them. The media coverage of this shooting sends a clear message in these states: If you seek a confrontation and then find yourself physically threatened, you can kill with impunity.

    Uh-huh, kill with impunity. What planet is this guy from?

  5. avatarjokr8790 says:

    If you honestly believe this law would be enforced by the police and public authorities fairly and impartially if the people’s races were reversed you are naive and willfully blind to the history of this country. The African-American would have been locked up that night on a bail bond he couldn’t meet and charged at the minimum with 2nd degree murder.

    • avatarV.McCann says:

      FLAME DELETED You have know way of knowing what happened between Martin and Zimmerman, so you ignorantly insist that any conclusion that does not fit your narrative must be wrong. Your summary conclusions are not evidence of themselves, and the solution to unjust police action against black people is not unjust police action against white people (or in this case people you’re pretending are white for purposes of your narrative).

      With information as readily available as it is now, there is absolutely no excuse for your kind of ignorance.

      Derp! They would never let a black guy shoot someone in self defense! Derp!

      http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/news/crime/taco-bell-shooting-victim-was-holding-leash-not-weapon-4-4-2012

      He must have been one of those “white-blackguys.” Derp!

    • avatarMikeS says:

      The murder statutes are not applied fairly either. Guess we have to repeal ‘em…..right?

  6. avatarV.McCann says:

    Sorry for my language in the above post. This is a classier joint than I’m used to.

  7. avatarFrank says:

    Here where I live it means, “You have no duity to retreat” and “deadly force is allowed if you feel your life or others are in danger”

  8. avatarJM says:

    To: RC
    This comment is to clarify for RC and everyone else as to what the true meaning of ‘killing’ is according to the Ten Commandments. Your comment is the based on the common knowledge (what most peoples’ common knowledge/belief is) as it relates to the Commandments and it’s meaning. The Commandments true meaning is as follows… The original words used were translated incorrectly into “kill.” The correct wording should have been “murder” or “Thou shall not murder”, as the original text actually translates to mean “to wait in cold blood” or tada… “murder.” So kiliing in not (necessarily) against the Ten Commandments unless it is murder. So confidently defend yourself and those you love righteously.
    JM

  9. All of the evidence (physical evidence plus witness testimony) indicated that Martin had Zimmerman on the ground and was beating on him.

    Even in states where one has a “duty” to retreat, the laws generally say one has to retreat if possible.

    “Stand your Ground” does not even apply in this case. Zimmerman was unable to retreat. The relevant portion of the law is the “presumption of lawful defense”.

  10. avatarGS650G says:

    IF he threw his dog sh!t on my property I would return it to him on his. He could decide to escalate at that point or not, based on his contention that it wasn’t the right thing to do.
    I had a jerk hit my car at a red light then proceed to drive away. I followed him home and got his tag, address, and a cellphone picture of him exiting the car. He came over to me and started threatening me at that point. Felt good to see the law hook him up for fleeing an accident scene and being DUI while making terrorist threats. Could he would he have been justified in SYG because I followed him and (in his view) confronted him about the accident? No, he would not.

  11. avatardan says:

    Ok so if the way your putting it is correct and the way he says it happened is the truth then george zimmerman is not guilty of anything but being stupid in following trayvon “drawing a line in the sand”…..and who are we to judge anyways isn’t that why we have the legal system? O yeah also wanted to say that since your trying to change the bill are you saying if we heaar someone being threatened or say raped and we confront that rapist telling him to stop we would essentially be “drawing a line in the sand” and we would be wrong if we killed him cause he didn’t stop? That’s bs. If this would’ve ben any other scenario then trayvon martin bein a 17 year old kid chances are he (george zimmerman) might have ben dubbed a hero. What this world needs is less govermental hipocracy and more people like george who are just trying to look out for one another even if we don’t kno each other. Give the guy a fuckin break anyone else would’ve ben suspicous of a black kid lurking in the shadows after dark with his hood up

  12. avatarW.Lay says:

    How does this law apply to hand to hand combatants (i.e martial artists)? I saw where a weapon was involved and understand this but aren’t some as lethal as weapons bare fisted? I live in Tennessee and the castle law is pretty standard, just because someone is in your home taking things does not mean that you can blow them away, just as the Martin ordeal didnt really justify his death. There are a lot of external circumstances I guess but the law is clear, and apparently is the collective intelligence of the media watching masses.

  13. avatarTomM says:

    Perhaps the SYG laws could be amended to include that SYG protections do not apply if you are the first aggressor and start a situation. It seems to be implied in the reasonable person concept. Most people who are carry CCW are careful not to provoke and deserve the protection of SYG laws. It is my understanding that this is already part of Florida law, it will be interesting to see how Mr. Zimmerman fares with the jury.

  14. avatarStephen says:

    If Zimmerman goes free, and someone follows him down a public sidewalk, then when Zimmerman feels threatened and reaches for his gun, but they shoot him first. Under the Stand Your Ground Law would they be justified in doing so?

    Law is based on what a “reasonable” person would do or expect. A reasonable person would not expect STAND Your Ground to mean STALK someone!

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