“The distinguishing feature of “stand your ground” laws is that they eliminate the duty to retreat for people confronted by threats of violence in public places. The shooting of Ralph Yarl did not happen in a public place; it happened on the doorstep of the man who shot him. The shooting of Kaylin Gillis likewise happened on the property of the man who killed her. New York, in any event, is not one of the 28 states with “stand your ground” laws. And as Reason‘s J.D. Tuccille notes, the Texas cheerleaders, Payton Washington and Heather Roth, “were chased by their assailants, which isn’t self-defense by any understanding.”
So why does NPR suggest that any of these defendants might successfully invoke a “stand your ground” defense? You got me.
A recent New York Times article that begins by citing the shootings in Missouri and New York is equally hazy on the relevance of “stand your ground” laws. Reporter Adeel Hassan compounds the confusion by mentioning a Florida jury’s 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter after he shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman argued that he reasonably feared for his life when Martin pinned him to the ground, punched him, and smacked his head against the pavement. That account was supported by physical evidence and witness testimony. Given those circumstances, the absence of a duty to retreat did not figure in Zimmerman’s defense or in the verdict.
Politico reporter Brakkton Booker nevertheless asserts that Florida’s “stand your ground” law was “central” to Zimmerman’s trial. Booker also thinks the shooting of Ralph Yarl “has all the ingredients to revive the national debate over ‘stand your ground’ laws,” although he never explains why.
Hassan at least correctly distinguishes between “the common-law ‘castle doctrine'” and “stand your ground” laws. The castle doctrine says people have no duty to retreat when they are confronted by intruders in their own homes. “Stand your ground” laws, Hassan notes, “go further” because they “apply anyplace where a person has a legal right to be, not just at home.” He cites Florida’s law as an example.”
“Texas has a similar law. It allows someone to use deadly force when he “reasonably believes” it is “immediately necessary” to protect himself against the “use or attempted use of unlawful deadly force.” It adds that “a person who has a right to be present at the location where the force is used, who has not provoked the person against whom the force is used, and who is not engaged in criminal activity at the time the force is used is not required to retreat before using force as described by this section.””
“Homicide defendants do sometimes invoke the absence of a duty to retreat in public places, although often implausibly and unsuccessfully, and there is a legitimate debate about whether that extension of self-defense law is fair and prudent. But that debate is muddied whenever news outlets bring up the controversy in contexts where it is plainly irrelevant.”