Following the devastation of Hurricane Michael, a city commissioner in Lakeland, Florida, was caught on video shooting a man he suspected of looting his store. Lawyers for the commissioner, who was indicted for second-degree murder, said that they were unsure if they would use Florida’s “stand your ground law” in his defense. This incident is only the most recent to draw attention to the use and effectiveness of “stand your ground” laws.
While about half of the states require a person to retreat from a threat of violence before resorting to deadly force as a last resort in self-defense, 25 states have laws that allow a person to use deadly force whenever that person is faced with a serious threat. In other words, these laws allow you to “stand your ground” (although that phrase is used explicitly in only 10 state laws). “Stand your ground” laws are an outgrowth of the “castle doctrine,” which affirms that when a person in in his or her home, that person is not required to retreat before using deadly force. However, “stand your ground” laws do not limit the right of self-defense to the home. Instead, these laws establish that a person has no duty to retreat from a place where that person is lawfully present. Depending on the state, that place may include your car or your place of employment.
Further, many of these “stand your ground” laws provide varying degrees of immunity from civil suits and criminal prosecution. However, Florida’s law stands out not only because it offers civil and criminal immunity but also because the law shifts the burden of proof in a “stand your ground” case from the defendant to the state. Once a defendant asserts a “stand your ground” defense, he or she is presumed to have a reasonable fear of “imminent peril,” and the state must prove otherwise.
“Stand your ground” has been at the heart of several controversial cases, including the shooting of Trayvon Martin. However, recent efforts to repeal or limit such bills have been unsuccessful. Regardless of whether this most recent case revolves around a “stand your ground” claim, these laws are likely to generate debate for years to come.