Street Law School: The “Stand Your Ground” Law

standyourgroundmap_620x350“Stand-your-ground” laws were first adopted in the United States by the State of Florida in 2005. Since 2005, thirty-one states, including Oklahoma, have enacted some form of stand-your-ground law, in which a person is granted certain immunities against the use of deadly force to defend against an “intruder”.

As should be expected, the stand-your-ground law has resulted in the increased use of the defense of “self-defense”, including in the case of the killing of Trayvon Martin. The Zimmerman case focused new attention on the Florida “Stand Your Ground Statute” and the breadth of its protection for individuals who claim to have used deadly force in the face of reasonably perceived deadly force.

Interestingly, there was no pre-trial “Stand Your Ground” Motion to Dismiss in the Zimmerman case. Instead, Zimmerman’s defense waited until trial to present Mr. Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. So, what is this immunity conferred by the “Stand Your Ground” Statute, how is it different from the trial defense of self-defense, and why didn’t Zimmerman attempt to cloak himself with immunity under the Statute?

Before the stand-your-ground law, a person was not permitted to resort to deadly force in self -defense without first using every reasonable means within his power to avoid danger, including retreat. Now, the stand-your-ground law eliminates the duty to retreat and confers “the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force 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.” 776.012 Florida Statutes. In Oklahoma, the law is found at 21 O.S.Supp.2006, § 1289.25.

To make a citizen’s assertion of his right to self-defense independent on any duty to first try to retreat from the danger, the Oklahoma legislature enacted 21 O.S.Supp.2006, § 1289.25(F), which immunizes those who are “not engaged in an unlawful activity”, and are acting in self-defense, from both civil suit and from criminal prosecution. Meaning, a person who claims to have “stood his ground” in the use of force can move to dismiss any case brought against him, civil or criminal, where he can show such force was justified. In the criminal context, a defendant may move for a pre-trial “stand your ground” hearing where he needs only to prove justification for his actions by a preponderance of the evidence. In the Trayvon Martin case, if Mr. Zimmerman had proven he had properly “stood his ground”, the criminal case against him would have been dismissed without the need for a trial.

But, Zimmerman withdrew his request for a pre-trial “stand-your-ground” motion. Why? At the pre-trial hearing, Zimmerman would have had the burden of proving that he properly acted in self-defense by a preponderance of the evidence. At trial, the burden shifted to the State to disprove Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt.  This is a difficult burden of proof, especially in cases where there is only one person left to tell what happened.

Zimmerman’s attorneys may have thought that their chance of succeeding at the pre-trial motion hearing was slim, and didn’t want to take a chance that potential jurors would hear that the Judge had rejected the claim of self-defense, thereby possibly leading potential jurors to conclude that the self-defense claim wasn’t credible. As we know, it was a gamble that paid off.

Share

Comments are closed.

  • Categories

  • Archives