Of even more significance is that twelve states go ahead to extend litigation costs and attorney fees "to a shooter who prevails in a civil lawsuit, creating a strong disincentive for a shooting victim to pursue justice in the civil system" (Mayors against Illegal Guns 6)
The Reach of Stand Your Ground Law
Although the Stand Your Ground Law is largely and extensively linked to Martin's case, a 2012 investigation by Tampa Bay Times revealed that "the Martin incident is far from the only example of the law's reach" (Lee). The relevance of this law as a major factor in judges' decisions, acquittals, and prosecutors' decisions, some of which involved cases that did not result in the victim's death, cannot be overstated (Lee).
In 2012, a Louisiana court acquitted Byron Thomas of all charges relating to an incident in which the 21-year-old, after a marijuana transaction turned sour, opened fire, killing one occupant in a sport utility vehicle transporting teenagers (Lee). According to Thomas' attorney, he (Thomas) had decided to stand his ground, "because as far as he knew, someone could have jumped out of the vehicle with a gun" (Lee).
In the same year, a Wisconsin court cleared a homeowner who had shot and killed weaponless 20-year-old Bo Morrison, who had innocently trespassed into the shooter's porch in an attempt to evade a scuffle with police responding to noise complaints in a nearby party (Lee). Although Wisconsin is not a stand Your Ground state, Governor Scott had, in the previous year, signed the Intruder's Bill, which presumed that anybody who used lethal force against a trespasser acted reasonably (Lee).
In January 2012, a Miami judge cleared Greyston Garcia of "second-degree murder" charges after he stabbed a "suspected burglar to death" (Lee). In this case, it was held that Garcia had acted reasonably; given that the intruder had flung a radio at him, "an object that a medical examiner at the hearing testified could cause 'serious harm or death'" (Lee).
Effects of Stand Your Ground Law
Empirical evidence indicates that Stand Your Ground states record higher rates of justifiable homicides than those that are not. Moreover, Stand Your Ground states record higher increases in homicide rates than those that are not, in consecutive study periods.
Rising Homicide Rates (Both Justifiable and Non-Justifiable)
According to FBI data, states operating the Stand Your Ground doctrine recorded sharp increases in the numbers of justifiable homicides, following the enactment of the law -- an assertion supported by Wible (123). States that passed the Stand Your Ground Law between 2005 and 2007 reported an average justifiable homicide rate that was a significant 53% higher than that of the years preceding enactment (Mayors against Illegal Guns 6). On the other hand, states that had, by 2007, still not enacted stand your Ground laws recorded an average decline of 5% in overall homicide rates (Mayors against Illegal Guns 6) (see Fig. 1). Kentucky, Arizona, Georgia, Texas, and Florida reported the highest jumps in homicide rates in the years following Stand Your Ground Law enactment, with Florida recording a massive 200%, Texas 54%, Georgia 83%, Arizona 24%, and Kentucky 75% (Mayors against Illegal Guns 6).
A study conducted by Urban Institute researchers Mitchell Downey and John Roman found that cases such as the Martin incident, where the shooter and the victim are not familiar with each other, were more likely to be categorized as justifiable homicides in Stand Your Ground states than the non-Stand Your Ground jurisdictions (Mayors against Illegal Guns 6). According to the study results, only 7.2% in this case "were deemed justifiable in non-Stand Your Ground states," compared to a significant 13.6% in Stand Your Ground states (Mayors against Illegal Guns 7).
Figure 1: Average Homicide Rates for Stand Your Ground States and non-Stand Your Ground States between 2005 and 2007 (per 1000 persons).
Disproportionate Racial Impact
Several studies on demographic data have found that the higher homicide rates in Stand Your Ground states affect the Black population more than it does Native Americans (Mayors against Illegal Guns 7). Although homicide cases involving Black Americans in Stand Your Ground States have been on the rise, just as those involving whites, higher rates of suspect victimization have been reported in cases involving Black Americans (Mayors against Illegal Guns 7). The Urban Institute found that the average rate of justifiable homicides involving black shooters more than doubled in Stand Your Ground states, most particularly from 2005-2007; whereas the rest of the country reported no significant change (Mayors against Illegal Guns 7).
The Urban Institute study also revealed significant disparities in the rates of homicides held justifiable between blacks and whites. In cases where the shooter and the victim were not familiar with each other; 34% of the white on black homicides were held justifiable, whereas only 3.3% of black on white homicides were ruled as being justifiable (Mayors against Illegal Guns 7).
Possible Reforms to Stand Your Ground Law
In order to scale down the weaknesses of Stand Your Ground Law, a number of reforms could be put in place. These reforms are aimed at correcting the ethical issues and general drawbacks surrounding the law. They include;
Going back to the traditional doctrine that deescalates confrontation by requiring a person to only use deadly force if they are in no position to safely remove themselves from a compromised situation
Incorporate a standard that provides for the use of deadly force only when there is imminent danger of serious physical injury, or death.
Doing away with the presumptions of lawfulness or reasonableness
Getting rid of provisions (particularly those that concern themselves with immunity) that derail processes of arrest as well as prosecution of shooters who claim self-defense
Doing away with unfair provisions such as those barring innocent bystanders from filing civil lawsuits to recover damages.
Giving juries the right to consider a shooter's ability to retreat in determining whether or not lethal force was necessary, even in the absence of the duty to retreat.
Providing facilitative avenues for law enforcers to conduct proper investigations even if a suspect raises a claim of self-defense.
Making use of juries, rather than lone judges in Stand Your Ground hearings, and replacing immunity hearings with grand juries, which are usually faster at reaching decisions.
Clarifying that the use of lethal force is prohibited if the other party is in retreat, and that the Stand Your Ground Law does not apply in such cases.
(Source: Gardner and Anderson 142-143)
Available evidence indicates that the laws that form the basis of this text impact negatively on public safety, and increase the rates of homicide. Rather than being a protective measure, Stand Your Ground Laws pose as a license to kill, and are, in this regard, an impediment to both justice and social well-being. The nation's legal system has, several times in the past, been criticized on the basis of enshrining what is seen as racial disparity in its legal framework. The segregation and slavery policies of the 20th century, and more recently, the stop-and-frisk technique synonymous with the war on drugs, have put the country's legal system in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Stand Your Ground Laws have no effect on burglary and theft, and therefore cannot be regarded an efficient crime-deterrence tool. There is need to act fast and correct the ethical and legal issues surrounding Stand Your Ground Laws - failure to which we will be bringing up a generation that finds pleasure in taking lives.
Gardner, Thomas and Anderson Terry. Criminal Law. Stamford: CT: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
Havis, Devonya. Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Historical Contexts and Contemporary Manifestations of Racial Dynamics. Ed. Yancy George and Jones Yanine. Plymouth: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013. Print.
Lee, Suevon. "Five 'Stand Your Ground' Cases You Should Know About." Pro-Publica, 2012. Web. http://www.propublica.org/article/five-stand-your-ground-cases-you-should-know-about
Mayors against Illegal Guns. "Stand Your Ground Laws and Their Effect on Violent Crime and the Criminal Justice System." Mayors against Illegal Guns, 2013. Web. 8 May 2014 https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/images/ShootFirst_v4.pdf
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