Saturday, April 14, 2012

KY Supreme Court: 'A Kentuckian never runs'

80-year-old Kentucky Supreme Court decision supports modern premise of 'stand your ground'

“No retreat” or “stand your ground” laws — enacted during the past few years in 21 states, at the behest of the National Rifle Association — have come under fire recently in the wake of Trayvon Martin's death.

The case has set off a firestorm among those who argue that gun laws such as those in Florida, Kentucky and Indiana make it too easy for anyone to pull the trigger, then avoid criminal charges by arguing self-defense.

In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Stengel called Kentucky’s law “horrible,” saying it gives homeowners and motorists a license to kill, even in defense of property.

Kentucky courts have long held there is no duty to retreat when threatened with serious harm or death.

Kentucky tradition

“It is the tradition that a Kentuckian never runs — he doesn’t have to,” the state’s high court said in 1931, reversing the manslaughter convictions of two men who killed a third in a drunken brawl, reported the Courier-Journal.

But Kentucky and Indiana followed Florida in enacting legislation expanding and codifying the “castle doctrine” — that a man’s home is his castle and he has the right to defend it.

The Kentucky legislation added that a person is “presumed” to have used reasonable force if the target had unlawfully or forcibly entered the person’s residence or vehicle. The shooter no longer had the burden of proving that his fear was reasonable.

The National District Attorneys Association said in a 2007 study it is almost impossible for prosecutors to rebut the presumption that a defendant acted reasonably, and that laws like Kentucky’s will create “a new protected set of behaviors that might otherwise be considered hate crimes or vigilantism,” reported the Courier-Journal.

The NRA has not commented on the Florida shooting and didn’t respond when asked about its support for “stand your ground” laws.

In Florida, the average number of such deaths annually climbed from 13 in the five years before that law was enacted to 36 in the five years after, according to the state Department of Law Enforcement.

Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson said last week the right to self-defense is especially important given that felons are being released early from prison for budgetary reasons.

The statute also figured prominently in a high-profile Jefferson County case in which former University of Louisville baseball player Isaiah Howes shot and killed former football player Daniel Covington after the latter tried to get inside Howes’ sport utility vehicle on Sept. 16, 2010, reported the Courier-Journal.

Citing the law, Jefferson Circuit Judge Barry Willett said that by leaning into the passenger window, assaulting Howes and another passenger, Covington triggered Howes’ right to defend himself with deadly force. Even though somebody in Howes’ vehicle uttered racial slurs against Covington, who is black, Willett said that provocation did not rise to the level that it eliminated Howes’ right to defend himself.

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