Monday, April 02, 2012

Stand Your Ground

Okay, here's the thing: I'm a big fan of rights to gun ownership, and concealed carry laws. I have myself qualified for a concealed carry permit in NC. Those laws should be "shall issue," and not up to the discretion of local authorities. Full stop. But..."stand your ground" laws, as they may be applied (NOTE: EDITED) in Florida, are nuts. If you are carrying a gun, you have it only to use as a last resort, and you are required, both morally and as a matter of law, to forebear from doing certain things you might otherwise do. If you are carrying a gun with CC permit, you cannot:

1. Drink alcohol. At all, not any.
2. Intentionally put yourself in a situation where you need to use the gun.
3. Get into a fight.

If for some reason you do get into a fight, you have to walk away. If walking away does not work, you have to run.

Only if you have made a serious reasonable effort to escape, or are prevented by circumstances from doing so (eg, other person has a deadly weapon) can you use your weapon, or for that matter any other kind of deadly force, in response. Someone pulls a knife on you, you don't have to run. Someone talks bad about your mama, walk away.

Now, a test case. Consider the following: "Citing the Florida [stand-your-ground] law, a judge dismissed a murder charge against Greyston Garcia, who had chased and stabbed to death a suspected burglar who had stolen his car radio. The judge ruled that a bag of radios swung by the suspect, Pedro Roteta, at Mr. Garcia amounted to a lethal threat." [WSJ story]

So, a quiz: Did Mr. Garcia satisfy the conditions for using a concealed weapon? (Assume the knife was large and concealed.) No. Not even close. You cannot use deadly force to defend property, unless there is also a threat to YOU. The robber (assume he was in fact *A* robber, who stole stuff, and *THE* robber, who stole in particular Mr. Garcia's stuff. He might not be, and it's not for Mr. Garcia to decide. But suppose). The robber ran away. You can run after him, but if you do you forfeit the right to use deadly force. Now, you might still use deadly force if your life was threatened (a bag of radios? really?). But if you do, you are guilty of manslaughter, just like anytime A kills B in a fight A started.

Now, the actual point. Re the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman thing. The question is, did Zimmerman try to walk away/run away? He did not. Mr. Zimmerman, in fact, followed Mr. Martin. That means Mr. Zimmerman cannot use his weapon. If he does, and kills Mr. Martin, then Mr. Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter, even if the only account of events we credit is that given by Mr. Zimmerman. ZIMMERMAN FOLLOWED MARTIN. (Plus, the police definitely told him not to, just in case Zimmerman was confused). If after that Zimmerman shot Martin, even if it was self-defense in the particular circumstances of that moment, Zimmerman is guilty of manslaughter. A kills B in a fight A started. A following B is starting a fight, seeking out a fight. It's not walking away.

"Stand your ground" laws are fine inside your home. Someone breaks into your home, empty the clip at them, no questions asked. But invoking "Stand your ground" when YOU chased THEM? That's just an excuse to commit murder and get away with it.

UPDATE: Jake Syma sends this link to a HuffPo piece by JM Granholm. Nice piece.

UPDATE II: It may be that the FLA SYG law will NOT apply in this case. That is certainly the view of the law's primary author, as here. If SYG is disallowed as a defense here, then I stand corrected and SYG is okay as written. If not, I've got beef. And I still find the application in the Garcia case above to be incomprehensible.

(Nod to Kevin Lewis and Jake Syma for links)


Anonymous said...


From this post, it's unclear if you are saying this is how the law is applied in Florida or how it would be applied in NC.

Tommy the wimpy "call the bobby" Brit

Mungowitz said...

A fair point, Tom. I am a small "r" republican when it comes to the home. We each have not just the right, but the responsibility, to defend ourselves. The "Bobby" is not going to do that for you. But when it comes to "stand your ground" and concealed carry, I am arguing from my understanding of NC laws. Clearly, the judge in FLA disagrees, since Mr. Garcia was not just acquited, but had the charges dismissed.

Brandon Berg said...

The police did not tell Zimmerman not to follow Martin. The exchange was:

Dispatcher: Are you folliwing him?
Zimmerman: Yes.
Dispatcher: We don't need you to do that.

Now, "We don't need you to do that" could have been a kind of passive-aggressive way of saying "You are not legally permitted to do that." But it was ambiguous at best. It could just as easily have meant "You're not obligated to do that."

Andrea said...

Zimmerman was not just taking a walk with his gun, or was hunting. He might not even purposely have been picking a fight. He was a neighborhood watch volunteer, which is obviously not considered vigilantism in Florida.

From his point of view, he might even have been on patrol with the express purpose to make his neighborhood safer. So, he was already chasing the “bad guys”. It seems reasonable to me, that it is hard to do that if you are required to turn around and walk away every time you finally spot someone supposedly suspicious.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a terrible mistake to have laws that more or less seem to justify the whole incident in the first place. But I wonder whether you can have those "stand your ground" laws AND allow self-appointed neighborhood watch members to run around with their guns in their own neighborhood.

Tom said...

Inside the home*, it's called castle doctrine; "stand your ground" applies in public places. The law was an answer to a genuine problem: it's not good to be (ruinously) prosecuted for actions decided on in dire stress and then have the burden of proof to show you could not have run.

Also remember Zimmerman is not using a Stand Your Ground defense (so far). He's claiming straight up self defense. The verity of that defense depends on the facts that can be shown -- news coverage of such is notoriously incomplete and unbalanced.

* "Home" might be any shelter you legally occupy, such as your car -- varies by state

Brandon Berg said...

Also, private citizens do have the right in every state to detain someone whom they have witnessed comitting a crime. Garcia was within his rights to do so. Given that Garcia was acting within his rights in pursuing the burglar, he was also within his rights to defend himself when confronted with potentially deadly force. Blunt trauma to the head fits the bill.

It's not clear to me that this case was wrongly decided, assuming the facts stated. That said, there really ought to be a requirement that you call the police ASAP.

The Zimmerman case is a bit murkier, since Martin was not committing a crime. But neither was Zimmerman, since it's not illegal to follow someone. If the facts are as Zimmerman claims (he lost sight of Martin while talking to the dispatcher, then shortly afterwards got out of the car to check the street sign and was confronted and attacked by Martin), he's in the clear, and not because of the SYG law, but because he was assaulted with deadly force and didn't have the opportunity to escape.

If the facts are not as Zimmerman claims--if he attacked Martin--then SYG won't save him. I don't see that the Stand Your Ground law is relevant in any scenario that fits the known facts.

Pelsmin said...

An interesting discussion (really) but not at the heart of the national incident that is unfolding, which is 99% a discussion on race and 1% on guns. E.g. if a black had shot a black, this (unfortunately) wouldn't be front page news. But the thing is, about all we DO know is that this wasn't an anti-black hate crime, and not even likely related to profiling.
The story erupted because a white guy named George Zimmerman shot an unarmed black boy in a "gated community." Cue the race-baiters like Al Sharpton. By the time they were rallying, the story shifted. The "Gated Community" was racially diverse; I've read that it is 49% black, but it is definitely a place where young black men in hoodies are part of the community that belongs there and regularly walk the streets going about their business. The shooter may have been trigger happy, maybe belongs in jail for a long time, but he wasn't an anti-black racist, from multiple credible accounts.
Despite the new revelations, the train has left the station, and the race-baiters know the truth won't even slow them down, let alone stop them.

Brandon Berg said...

I see that under North Carolina law (PDF, 14-51.4(2)), you can start the fight and still claim self-defence. I'm not entirely sure I understand the countours of this, but I believe it only applies if the initial provocation doesn't rise to the level of felony, and the other person unilaterally escalates it to a life-threatening situation. This seems like something that's just asking to be abused, though.

Anonymous said...

A couple points that other commenters have noted before.

1: SYG laws vary a bit state to state, mine doesn't have one, but we do have Castle Doctrine, and SYG is basically CD in public.

2: Zimmerman is not claiming SYG, SYG has not been cited by the police or prosecutors as exculpatory in this case, and in general, SYG has nothing whatsoever to do with this case. It has only been connected by the media as a frame for the issue.

3: Lastly and most importantly, self defense is a tricky and inconsistent area to write laws for. It's even trickier to decide morality for. The so-called "duty to retreat" is not a moral principle, it is a burden placed on the armed by the unarmed to compensate for the effrontery of taking responsibility for their own protection. Think about what you've said; If you carry a gun, you have a responsibility to walk away from any situation that may get violent. This is clearly not the case, legally or morally. Think of a case where an armed civilian happens upon a crime in progress, is he morally obliged to leave the (lets say) mugging victim to their fate? Of course not. If on a date and approached by a threatening man with a weapon, and clear sidewalk behind, should teh CCW holder simply abandon their slower spouse and flee, as required by your principle? Of course not. Self defense cases are involved and complicated, and must necessarily consider the mental state and subjective POV of the persons involved, as well as unique circumstances.
If, for instance, in the Zimmerman/Martin case, Z had followed M, but had given up and was returning to his vehicle when attacked, self defense would be completely valid. If Z followed M and accosted him, then it becomes much less likely. The point is, situations are unique (I really shouldn't have to tell a professor this) and glib statements like an complete and perfect duty to retreat in every circumstance reflect the anti-self-defense mentality that SYG laws were written to counter.