Monday, July 15, 2013

Shoot First, Answer Later - The Castle Doctrine

In the United States, over half of state governments have passed variations of "stand-your-ground" laws derived from the Castle Doctrine.  This legal concept is particularly pertinent in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case in Florida.

The Castle Doctrine is an age-old legal concept that has arisen from English Common law which allows the defence of ones' home and offers a special degree of legal immunity to individuals that defend themselves against attack when they are forced to defend their homes.  Think of the old adage "A man's home is his castle" as your frame of reference.  Some people term these laws as a "no duty to retreat in your home" law or a "make my day" law.  Most states in America have such laws that protect individuals against civil action as well as legal prosecution, preventing assailants from suing the defender of a home or their next-of-kin for wrongful death, medical bills, disability or pain.  In some states, homeowners must prove that they made an effort to retreat from threats and in others, this is not the case.  The stand-your-ground laws in some states also mean that the duty to retreat for self-protection is not required even outside one's residence, stating that a person has no obligation to abandon any place that they have a right to be because they are being threatened by an assailant, thus the problems in Florida.

Beard v. United States way back in 1895 was the key to future stand-your-ground laws in federal court.  The plaintiff, one Mr. Babe Beard a non-Indian resident of the Indian Territories, got into a brouhaha over a cow that was supposed to belong to his adopted stepson, Edward Jones.  When Edward took the cow, his brothers went to the Beard house, armed with shotguns, to take the cow back, threatening Mr. Beard that they would kill him if they did not get the cow back.  When they showed up at the Beard farm, one of the Jones brothers was armed with a concealed pistol.  To defend himself against the perceived threat, Mr. Beard struck both brothers, killing one who died from the effects of having his skull crushed with a blow from Mr. Beard's gun.  Here's the final paragraph of the Supreme Court finding:

"The defendant was where he had the right to be, when the deceased advanced upon him in a threatening manner, and with a deadly weapon; and if the accused did not provoke the assault, and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe, and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life, or do him great bodily harm, he was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground, and meet any attack made upon him with a deadly weapon, in such way and with such force as, under all the circumstances, he, at the moment, honestly believed, and had reasonable grounds to believe, were necessary to save his own life, or to protect himself from great bodily injury."

Back to the present.  From the Brady Campaign website, here is a map showing the states (in blue) that have "stand-your-ground" laws:

Most states have some version of the "stand-your-ground" legislation; in some cases, the legislation is so strong that homeowners are not forced to attempt a retreat before using force to defend their homes and in some cases, citizens are allowed to use deadly force in their cars or at work or even any place they find themselves.  Each state incorporates into its laws which premises are covered, the degree of retreat that is required and whether non-deadly resistance is required before lethal force can be used.  

Two states in particular have very strong "stand-your-ground" laws.  Texas allows citizens to use lethal force when an intruder has entered or is attempting to enter using force, is attempting to remove someone from a home, car or workplace using force or is attempting to commit murder, rape or robbery.  An attempt to retreat is not required in Texas.  Here's a screen capture showing part of the Act covering the use of deadly forced in defense of a person:

Here's the key phrase that protects the defender, giving them a presumption of innocence:

As we now know, Florida also has very strong Castle Doctrine laws that, as shown here, even protect domiciles that are mobile and may even be as temporary as a tent and also covers a homeowners' temporary guests:

Here is the key statute that provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil action for justifiable use of force and key to the Zimmerman acquittal:

Basically, Florida's laws mean that an individual has no duty to retreat when threatened.  In fact, you will notice that Florida courts will even cover a defendant's legal costs, compensate them for the loss of income and all other expenses if they are found to be immune from prosecution related to any civil action brought by a plaintiff related to the use of force in any case.

Other states with particularly strong stand-your-ground laws (in alphabetical order) include Alabama, Arizona,  Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Washington.

States with limited Castle Doctrine laws include Idaho, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, D.C.  In these states, homeowners have little right to protect their homes using deadly force.  Note that in the case of Virginia, there is no statute, rather, common law clearly states that Castle Doctrine laws apply anywhere that a citizen is located.

It's now obvious that these laws derived from the Castle Doctrine are very controversial and that one's view on the issue is closely aligned with one's view on gun ownership.  Not surprisingly, the NRA has taken a strong "pro stand-your-ground" approach.  On the other side of the issue, the Center for Media and Democracy notes that the rate of homicides in Florida alone that are legally justified has jumped by 300 percent since Florida's stand-your-ground laws were passed in 2005.

This is clearly yet another issue that will continue to divide America.


  1. A person doesn't have to use a gun to get in trouble in certain states while defending their property... I recall being shown a video in which a man whose car was parked on the street in front of his house and was having the rims stolen by a thief. The car owned grabbed a shovel ran down a slight hill and nailed the thief over the head with the shovel. Car owner was charged with aggravated assault. This happened in NY state probably the best state in the country to be a violent criminal low rate of gun ownership and high likelihood being charged with a crime if you hurt a criminal.

  2. If the 300% increase were legally justified according to Florida's stand-your-ground laws they can't be considered homicides. They should be 1) warnings to would be criminals and 2) seen as making the state a safer place to live. Wake up people!

  3. ^^Agree high levels of gun ownership = lower crime rate. States with Extremely High Populations of Gun Owners(more than 50%)
    Next to that ill post Violent crime per 100,000 and then if its low or high and why Violent crime is murder forcible rape robbery and aggravated assault. Assaults and Robbery makes up most of the numbers.

    •1. Wyoming - 59.7% 219.3 Low
    •2. Alaska - 57.8% 606.5 High although Aggr Assault was 464
    •3. Montana - 57.7% 267.5 Low
    •4. South Dakota - 56.6% 254.1 Low
    •5. West Virginia - 55.4% 315.9 Low
    •6. Mississippi - 55.3% 269.8 Low
    •6. Idaho - 55.3% 200.9 Low
    •6. Arkansas - 55.3% 480.9 Higher then average
    •9. Alabama - 51.7% 420.1 About average

    1. Except the states you cite are, I believe, generally more rural etc with a whole host of different demographic factors playing into crime rates; such as population density, poverty levels, etc.

      (For example, in terms of poulation density;
      Wyoming - 49
      Alaska - 50
      Montana - 48
      South Dakota - 46
      West Virginia - 29
      Mississipi - 32
      Idaho - 44
      Arkansas - 34
      Alabama - 27)

      Moreso, it fails to cover where a state with already high crime bans or restricts crimes due to their frequent criminal use, but only sees a moderate drop due to either the previous availability or out-of-state smuggling/importing.

      i.e. if you take one number, and another number, and find a rough correlation it is not evidence of causation. Otherwise we can link the rise in average global temperature to be due to the correlated decrease in the number of pirate ships off the Spanish Main.

    2. ^^ Yes you are right but my point was that GUNS don't create crime, I reworded the post to make more sense with the info i provided. Criminals create crime, poor low income uneducated/undereducated people create and commit crime. But why should educated and honest people suffer becuase of them. Only law following people listen to gun bans or restrictions criminals don't care, thats why laws against guns only lead to more crimes becuase law following folks don't buy/ have guns making them easy targets for the criminals who will get and use guns because they are criminals.

  4. Sure, I agree with the contents of this article, but does the author realize that "Stand Your Ground" was not part of this case? It was simple self-defense. Stand Your Ground was not implemented. If it were, the judge would rule on that, not a jury. Zimmerman did not "shoot first answer later." He was severely beaten first, then, after yelling for help and was in fear of losing consciousness, pulled out his weapon and fired only once. Just once. He could have very easily emptied the clip, but one round was all he used because he was using it in self-defense. There is all this talk about gun control and Stand Your Ground, but neither were an issue or problem in this case. Find another trial and go from there, stop looking at Zimmerman like he apparently used the system for his advantage. He didn't.