A “stand your ground” defense can be used in criminal cases in situations where a person is legally allowed to use force (including deadly force) to defense themselves. This type of self-defense is allowed when a person encounters an immediate threat or perceived threat against their life.
"Stand your ground" laws are also referred to as “no duty to retreat” laws because a person is not required to retreat from the situation, even if they would have had a reasonable opportunity to safely do so. These laws generally come into play when a person is attacked in a place they are lawfully allowed to be present.
Not all states allow for the stand your ground defense. Many states apply the castle doctrine, which also permits individuals to defend themselves by using any amount of force when threatened with immediate serious bodily harm or death.
However, the castle doctrine only applies when the threat occurs within a person’s home, vehicle or other living space. If the threat occurs in public, the person will have a duty to retreat if they can reasonably do so.
The stand your ground defense takes this a step further by legalizing the use of deadly force in self-defense outside of the home. As noted above, in stand your ground states a person can use deadly force to defend themselves in public if they were in a place that they were lawfully allowed to be present.
There are certain situations where you cannot assert the stand your ground defense. For example, if you are trespassing on someone else’s property and encounter an imminent threat you will not be able to assert this defense if you use force against someone. This is because under the law trespassers have no right to be present on the property.
Additionally, if you are in the act of committing a crime you will not be allowed to asser the stand your ground defense. Thus, if you harm another person while committing a criminal act you can still be liable for assault, battery, murder, etc. (depending on the amount of force that is asserted). This is true even if the person threatened to attack you during the commission of your crime.
Over the years, more states have enacted stand your ground laws. As of 2018, the following 27 states have stand your ground laws:
- New Hampshire;
- North Carolina;
- South Carolina;
- South Dakota;
- West Virginia; and
In addition, the states of California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and Washington have allowed stand your ground laws through other means, including case law. North Dakota, Ohio and Wisconsin have also allowed this defense in cases where a person uses deadly force in their vehicle. We may see formal stand your ground laws in these states in the future.
Stand your ground policies have been a high subject of debate throughout the recent years. Groups that lobby against these laws view them as granting an individual to “shoot first,” resulting in more deaths down the road. These individuals want these laws to be abolished or to implement the duty to retreat as a component of the defense.
Stand your ground laws have particularly been a hot topic of debate in Florida where the well-known Trayvon Martin case was heard. In the Martin case, a police office asserted self defense when shooting an unarmed teenager who he claimed did not comply with his requests and tried to attack him during their altercation.
While he did not assert stand your ground as a defense, this case sparked a debate about whether stand your ground laws are too lenient. The judge in this case still instructed the jury about the elements of the stand your ground defense as well.
There have also been an increase in self-defense claims since Florida enacted its stand your ground law. This has upset many people who are looking for the statute to be abolished. Several bills have also been proposed that would limit the use of this defense. We may see this change in restricting stand your ground policies in other states in the coming years.
If you have been charged with a crime where you believe that you were acting in self-defense, you should hire a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and represent you in court. An attorney can tell you if the stand your ground defense is applicable in your state and if you should try to assert it. Remember that the availability of this defense will depend on the state you live in and the specific circumstances of your case.