Sunday, March 18, 2012

'Stand Your Ground' under scrutiny: Murder or self-defense?

An off-shoot of the Castle Doctrine, "Stand Your Ground," is getting a lot of attention in Florida.  Last month, a neighborhood watch organizer in Orlando shot an killed an unarmed 17-year-old boy, saying he felt threatened by the young man.

The young man's uncle sums up the fundamental question regarding the 'stand your ground' law--"What gave him the right to think he was judge, jury and executioner?"

The answer to his question may be simple: the state of Florida, which in 2005 enacted one of the nation's strongest so-called "stand your ground" self-defense laws. According to the statute, a person in Florida is justified in using deadly force against another if he or she "reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony."

Was Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed, posing a threat to the shooter, George Zimmerman's life? We may never know for sure, but in Florida - and a growing number of states - what matters isn't whether or not Martin was actually a threat, only that Zimmerman "reasonably" believed he was.

But what is reasonable? Ekow Yankah, an associate professor of criminal law at Cardozo School of Law in New York, says that to some people, it is reasonable to be suspicious of a young black man walking alone in the dark, reported CBS News.

"We have to decide what counts as 'reasonable' to be afraid of, and nobody should pretend that that isn't socially and culturally loaded," Yankah told CBS.

Gregory O'Meara, an associate professor of law at Marquette University School of Law, agrees.

"These 'stand your ground' laws license pistol-packing urban cowboys and paranoid people," O'Meara told CBS. "We've all been trained to be afraid of black men, and if you're afraid enough that justifies everything."

But Allen County, Indiana prosecutor Karen Richards, who has prosecuted cases involving claims of self-defense, told CBS that the new laws simply "solidify what juries were feeling anyway. If you're in a place where you have a right to be and you have a reasonable belief you need to use deadly force, juries don't think you need to retreat."

According to CBS, legislatures in Iowa, Nebraska and Alaska are considering bills that would similarly expand where, when and how a citizen can kill someone they perceive as trying to harm them. Bucking the trend, on March 5 Minnesota's governor vetoed a bill that would have expanded the places in which a citizen could use deadly force.

In Oklahoma, which passed a "stand your ground" law in 2006, the new language made it easy for law enforcement to clear 19-year-old Sarah McKinley, who shot and killed a man trying to break into her Oklahoma home on New Year's Eve. McKinley was immediately hailed as a hero. The situation was less clear cut when pharmacist Jerome Erlsand shot one of the young men who tried to rob the Oklahoma City drugstore where he worked in 2009. Ersland shot 16-year-old Antwun Parker in the head, chased his accomplice out, then returned and shot Parker five more times as the teen lay on the floor. Ersland pleaded self-defense, but was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, reported CBS.

To read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57398005-504083/the-trayvon-martin-case-exposes-the-realities-of-a-new-generation-of-self-defense-laws/?tag=cbsContent;carouselBar

2 comments:

Leola said...

This law probably means that in Florida a victim of domestic violence is always vindicated for shooting her abuser. Oh, wait.

Stupid law, apparently applies only to men shooting brown(er) people.

Ajlounyinjurylaw said...

It's not reasonable if no weapon was drawn and why the heck was he packing a gun to begin with. There is no justice in this hidious act. RIP Trayvon.

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