The “Stand-Your-Ground” Laws

In the United States, an individual’s right to bear arms is enshrined in the Second Amendment that was made to the United States Constitution in 1791. It is located in the Bill of Rights and is a buttress for the natural right that allows resistance to any form of oppression and in effect sanctioning self-defense. Conversely, a person’s right to defend themselves and their property differs from one state to another. It is from the Amendment II precedent that states adopt what is known as the “Castle Doctrine” popularly referred to as the “Stand-Your-Ground-Laws”. The Stand-Your-Ground Law refers to a justification that can be invoked during a criminal case giving the defendant the right to be unyielding and use deadly force, if necessary, in their efforts to shield themselves or others from imminent or perceived threats (Gardner & Anderson, 2015, p. 140). Texas is one among the thirty-three states that implement some version of this law, according citizens a civic duty of not retreating in situations where they reasonably believe that they could be in danger (Spitzer, 2016, p. 87). This essay seeks to elaborate on how “stand-your-ground” laws are directly linked to other forms of self-defense protection and how these laws reduce the burden of proof for defendants who had resorted to the use of lethal force.

Self-defense laws generally assert that people are allowed to use deadly force if a situation arises where they have a realistic belief that it is obligatory for them to stop the other person from doing them harm. Under these laws, individuals have a constitutional right to defend themselves. The “stand your ground” term is not a legal term that one can find in the Texas Penal code but very much related to stipulations for self-defense. For instance, in Title 2 of the Texas Penal Code force can only be used when there is an imminent threat of harm, an unlawful entry in one’s home, place of business or vehicle (Siegel & Worrall, 2017, p. 145). Texas Law can only presume that an individual acted justifiably when applying deadly force to an attacker that had entered ones occupied habitation, vehicle or business premises  unlawfully. A second premise that also allows for the use of deadly force in self-defense is when an attacker unlawfully attempts to displace one from their occupied habitation, vehicle or business premises. If any of these situations arise, one will be presumed under Texas law to have acted reasonably when applying deadly force in dealing with the intruder (Lippman, 2015, p. 425). It is also important to note that the no “duty to retreat” clause exists under Texas law if faced with a situation that would warrant the use of deadly force. One could retreat but, legally, under Texas, they do not have to.

In official terms, the burden of proof refers to a party’s duty, during a trial, to provide evidence which will then be used to attest the claims that they are making against another. Presumptions in legal disputes always initially hold that one party is correct and as such, given the benefit of doubt. If a party carrying the burden of proof successfully meets their own burden, tables turn and the other side is then found culpable (In Utter, 2016, p. 56). One flaw of having the “stand-your-ground” Law is that it significantly reduces the burden of proof on the defendant’s in the event that they use deadly force. If the lethal force used kills the other party, it would then be difficult to prove that the defendant’s action was not justified. Such is the case because the only witness in the crime is essentially dead. In the event of a criminal homicide, it is very likely that, in their argument, individuals charged might first resort to using “stand-your-ground” laws as the first line of affirmative defense. Furthermore, the “retreating” requirement found under common law is removed in the “stand-your-ground” laws. The use of deadly force by an individual thus becomes reasonable in the “stand-your-ground” laws. These laws are essentially giving arm-bearing individuals the right to “shoot” first in an apparent act of self-defense. Such a law is dangerous as it may inadvertently lead to a “shoot first ask questions later” attitude whenever a person perceives another as a threat. As a result, a drunkard stumbling into a person’s driveway or trick-or-treaters keeping the age old Halloween tradition may be perceived as a threat and end up falling victim to the law with perpetrators walking away scot-free.

The Criminal Justice system might also be undermined especially when they courts are forced to dismiss cases when defendants draw the “stand-your-ground” law card. Cases presented in courts may result in numerous dismissals when claims of acting under the confines of rule are presented through stipulations found in the “stand-your-ground’ law. For criminals and trigger-happy individuals they can now easily provoke a fight, draw a gun and shoot an unarmed person to death (Scheb, n.d., p. 425). Another reason why “stand-your-ground” laws are a looming danger is the uncertainty regarding the demarcation of the laws in the doctrine and outcomes varying from one court to another. Miscarriages of justice may be the order of the day especially when the jury is supplied insufficiently with information about events that led to the crime. Moreover, in its pure form, it is seen as encouraging violence. It is now easier for people to engage in violent confrontations as they are aware that the law will protect them in a court. The only claim that they have to make is that they felt threatened and had to act to prevent harm to themselves and others (Johnstone & Johnstone, 2014).  The use of unreasonable force has also been a matter of concern to many in as far as the “stand-your-ground” laws are concerned. It is possible that there are those who might use excessive force in “defending” themselves even when it was clear that they were not in any form of danger. For instance, Daniel Adkins Jr. succumbed to his injuries after he was shot by Cordell Jude who saw him as danger. Adkins had walked in front of his vehicle at an Arizona drive-thru and justified his actions by claiming that he had been wielding a weapon (metal pipe). It was later established that the said weapon was, in fact, a dog leash and had he had killed an unarmed mentally disabled Adkins.

An important debate the “stand-your-ground” laws bring up is that of Immunity v. Self-Defense. Distinctions are always made in civil assault cases regarding whether the law accords one immunity or self-defense. Affirmative dense can be raised in a court of law where one can now claim that, in addition to committing the assault, their actions were also justified. If the defense is successful in putting their argument across to the jury, the damages they would be required to pay may be slight lower than they expected but at the same time having justified their actions. When immunity is invoked, complete protection is enjoyed by the defendants for not being sued (Pollock, 2014, p. 478). If the assault case is of a criminal nature, police only investigate the incident but cannot act and arrest the accused. The only time they can arrest an individual is after investigations that have proved that they did not act under the confines of the said law. In such a case, a judge will find the defendant immune and the law suit costs incurred by the plaintiff. The use of this law is mainly associated with the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17year old African American teen, by George Zimmerman. As a captain in his neighbor hood watch, he claimed that he acted in self-defense as he was held back at the time and could not retreat (Spitzer, 2015, p. 237). What further complicated this case was that the alleged crime had taken place in Florida, a state that had in 2005 enacted the “stand-your-ground” laws as an extension of the self-defense law. It was by using grounds clearly spelled in this law that the Trayvon Martin case against George Zimmerman’s was dismissed with his subsequent acquittal. Many still believe that he did not pay for the crime committed. It is also because of cases of such a complex nature that the Florida Legislature has now embarked on tabling a bill that would require people to at least fire a warning shot or revealing their concealed weapons in case of an altercation while, at the same time, avoiding prison sentences.

In conclusion, the application of the “stand-your-ground” or “line-on-the-sand” law in the state of Texas, is an affirmation made that individuals are not required to retreat when reasonable intuitive belief leads them to conclude that they may be under threat of bodily harm or death. In order to raise this defense argument in court, one has to prove that they were acting in self- defense, they had not provoked the plaintiff and were not breaking any Texan or Federal laws at the time of the incident. Critics are however raised pertinent questions regarding this law as they argue that it would lower the burden of proof requirement on the defendant’s side. I concur with the sentiments that if these laws are not clearly spelled out, they could pose an existential threat that could sharply increase homicide rates across the United States with the victim using the “stand-your-ground” law as their ticket to freedom.

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