Stand your ground, Castle Doctrine, Duty to Retreat…What does it all mean?

Stand your ground, Castle Doctrine, Duty to Retreat…What does it all mean?

In light of the controversial George Zimmerman trial “Stand your ground” commentary seems to be everywhere, but few people seem to really understand what “Stand you ground” laws mean.

As defined in Wikipedia, “A stand-your-ground law is a type of self-defense law that gives individuals the right to use reasonable force to defend themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation.  It is law in certain jurisdictions within the United States and the basis for said law may lie in either statutory law and or common law precedents.  One key distinction is whether the concept only applies to defending a home or vehicle, or whether it applies to all lawfully occupied locations.  Under these legal concepts, a person is justified in using deadly force in certain situations and the “stand your ground” law would be a defense or immunity to criminal charges and civil suit.  The difference between immunity and a defense is that an immunity bars suit, charges, detention and arrest.  A defense, such as an affirmative defense, permits a plaintiff or the state to seek civil damages or a criminal conviction but may offer mitigating circumstances that justify the accused’s conduct.”

In Pennyslvania we do not have the “Stand your ground” law we saw discussed in the George Zimmerman trial but we do have the “Castle doctrine” which states that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked.  In addition in Pennsylvania, a person using deadly force and claiming self-defense must meet certain standards.  The person cannot be involved in anything illegal or illegally possess a weapon; he or she must use force only when there is reasonable belief that death or serious injury is imminent; and the person against whom the force is used must have displayed or used a weapon capable of lethal use.

In the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Stand-your-ground laws or “shoot first” laws as they are called by critics are coming under harsh scrutiny.  During a July 16, 2013 speech in the wake of the jury verdict acquitting George Zimmerman, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized stand-your-ground laws, saying they “senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.” President Obama also commented on the verdict asking states to re-evaluate their “Stand Your Ground” laws.  The President posed the question, “If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? Do we actually think he would’ve been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman because he followed him in a car?” If there’s ambiguity in the answer, the laws should be reviewed.

For now “Stand your ground” laws continue to stand in many states across the country;  for how long is yet to be seen!

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