Many people seem to be confused as to what a “Stand Your Ground” defense is. There are two cases that people are talking about when it comes to stand your ground, but neither really fit. Before we talk about them, lets first understand what “Stand Your Ground” means.
In general, to use a “Stand Your Ground” defense, you must first, be in a location that you are legally allowed to be. This means that if you are tress passing or break into someones house, you cannot use the defense. Second, you must show that you had justifiable fear for your life, and you, as the defendant, must prove this. You cannot just say, “He looked scary”, you have to prove that you had reason to believe that the person you shot was threatening you. Lastly, you must be, at the least, standing your ground. You cannot charge into battle or chase down your attacker after they have fled.
States may differ on some of the details, but those are the main points. This type of law comes from “Castle Doctrine”, or laws that state that if you are in your own legal home, and sometimes vehicle or workplace, you are allowed to defend yourself with no legal requirements to retreat or try to escape your home. Some states have laws requiring you to try to leave the house first, or may have laws that require you to try to run away before defending yourself.
Florida has “Stand Your Ground” laws in place, and it is the state where the trial of George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander occurred.
In the case of George Zimmerman, “Stand Your Ground” would not have had a part because at the time of the shooting, he was on his back, with Trayvon on top of him. He could not have retreated even if he wanted to.
I have also seen people holding signs or posting online asking where Trayvon’s “Stand Your Ground” rights were. Let’s reverse the roles for a moment. Let’s say that Zimmerman didn’t have the gun, Trayvon punches him in the face, breaking his nose, then tackles him, and starts to bounce his head off the sidewalk. Unable to defend himself, Zimmerman succumbs to the attack and dies. Trayvon is arrested. When he tries to use a “Stand Your Ground” defense, the prosecutor calls his friend, Rachel Jeantel, to the stand. She proceeds to tell how Trayvon told her over the phone that he was going back to confront the man following him.
Trayvon didn’t stand his ground, and he threw the first punch to attack an overweight man. One could also argue that since he was walking up close to other people’s houses, and not on the sidewalk, that he wasn’t on ground that he was legally permissible to be standing on.
Now, had Trayvon been on the sidewalk, and instead of going back to confront, he waited for Zimmerman to approach him, maybe the defense would be right.
In the other case, we have Marissa Alexander, a black woman who tried to use the defense after firing a warning shot into a wall to stop her abusive husband. She was denied the use of the “Stand Your Ground” defense, and rightly so.
You’ll see a lot of arguments that it’s because she is black. But that isn’t the case. Legally, she just didn’t have any ground to stand on.
What happened was as follows.
Two months before the shooting, Marissa moved out of her family home. The night before the shooting, she returned, parked her car in the garage, closed the door, and then spent the night, made breakfast, and had a nice morning. She then showed her husband pictures of their newborn baby. Text messages on the phone though, made him question if the baby was his. During the argument, she went into the bathroom. He yelled for the kids to get ready, because he was taking them and leaving what he thought was a cheating wife. He then cornered her in the bathroom to question her more about the texts, where he pushed her once, and a slamming door bruised her leg.
She pushed past him and entered the bedroom. He went into the living room, wanting to leave. Marissa had many exits available now, and was also not in any immediate danger, as he was no longer in the room. Instead, she entered the living room, pushing past her husband again, and went to the garage. Again, she is out of danger as he was not following her. In her car, she retrieved her gun, and returned to the living room, where she aimed the gun at her husband and kids. The husband begged her not to kill him. She fired, the bullet went past his head, through a wall and into the ceiling in the kitchen.
Stand your ground doesn’t fit because she was out of danger, not once, but twice, and went back to her husband. Had she shot him in the bathroom where he pushed her and blocked the door, then maybe her argument would have been valid. Instead, she shot at her husband as he was preparing to leave.
Likewise, if she feared for her life so much, why did she return to her husband once she was released from jail, in defiance of a court order, and then start another fight with her husband?
Was her husband a dickwad. Yes, probably was. But that doesn’t mean that a “Stand your ground” defense was right.
Another important fact about that case is her sentence. She got 20 years. Many people are calling out about how wrong that is, and I actually agree with them. Not for the same reasons though. They are claiming that she was sentenced so harshly because she is black, but again, that isn’t true. Florida has mandatory minimum sentences that are tacked on for any offense that involves a firearm. That means that once she was found guilty, she would receive a minimum of 20 years. That’s right, the same people who are calling for harsher gun laws, are the ones that are putting this abused woman away for 20 years.