Are teenagers at greater risk because of the expansion of self-defense laws known as "stand your ground" and the "castle doctrine?" Critics suggest the laws significantly raises the stakes for teenagers engaging in stupid pranks and petty crime.
During the past week, three teenagers in states with such laws were shot to death for doing things that, critics of the laws say, teenagers regularly get caught doing, according to the Christian Science Monitor (CSM).
The castle doctrine and stand your ground laws are under growing scrutiny. Though they vary by state, the laws are founded on the idea that lawful citizens have no "duty to retreat" from danger in and around their dwelling or even in public. Dozens of states have passed such laws in the past 10 years.
According to the CSM, an unarmed 17-year-old Jordan Davis was allegedly shot and killed in Florida by 40-something Michael Dunn after an argument about a loud car stereo outside a convenience store.
And in Minnesota, retired State Department employee Byron David Smith allegedly wounded and then killed two teenagers, Haile Kifer and Nicholas Brady, who broke into his house on Thanksgiving, apparently on a hunt for prescription drugs.
This week also saw three teen boys charged with murder in Alabama after their friend, Summer Moody, was shot in April. When a man caught the four breaking into fishing cottages in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, he allegedly fired a warning shot that killed Summer in what a district attorney called a "tragic accident." On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted the three boys, not the man who shot Summer, according to the CSM.
Those dynamics were highlighted by the first test of Wisconsin's castle doctrine law in April, when a teenager fleeing a party busted by police in Slinger, Wis., hid on an enclosed back porch. The startled homeowner shot the "intruder." Prosecutors decided not to press charges against the homeowner.
Though there are no data on the impact of stand your ground laws on teenagers, a Texas A&M University study this summer found that homicide rates had risen by an average of 7 to 9 percent in states that enacted such laws. According to the CSM, the causes were not clear, but the authors of the study suggested that "perhaps the most obvious form of escalation – and one most commonly cited by critics of castle doctrine law – is that conflicts or crimes that might not have otherwise turned deadly may now do so."
For Kathleen Stilling, a former Wisconsin circuit judge and currently a lawyer in Brookfield, Wis., the main problem is expanding the scope of the these laws beyond the home.
"When you're talking about the sidewalk immediately outside your house, it seems to me that's going to be an area where there's a higher potential for kids, perhaps naughty but innocent of any destructive intent, could end up," she told the CSM. Just talking to teenagers reveals stories "about underage drinking parties, or 'Risky Business' parties, and how everybody ran from the cops and scattered into surrounding yards, where they could end up in a position to frighten someone."
In an opinion article for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, she wrote: "I do think that someone needs to tell the kids that the rules have changed."
To read more: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Justice/2012/1129/Stand-your-ground-laws-Do-they-put-teens-in-greater-danger