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]