While the country had its attention turned toward George Zimmerman’s trial, an armed intruder in South Carolina attempted to use the same legal defense that gained infamy in the early days of the Zimmerman case.
Gregg Isaac began his trial last week for a confessed home invasion in 2005, where he shot and killed Antonio Corbitt in front of an 8-year-old child. After the trial judge originally denied Isaac’s motion that he could use deadly force under the state’s version of Stand Your Ground law, the South Carolina Supreme Court agreed to halt the proceedings and hear the case to determine a procedural point.
The reason the Supreme Court will consider the case has to do with exactly when a judge should hold a hearing to determine whether the defendant is immune from going to trial and the defendant’s right to immediately appeal; it will not tackle the substance of the law, according to The State. If the Stand Your Ground hearing determines the shooter was protecting himself in a place he had a legal right to be, then the case never proceeds to a trial.
The state’s 2006 law is nearly identical to American Legislative Exchange Council model legislation that states a person not engaging in unlawful activity has no duty to retreat and “has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”
Isaac almost certainly would not win with this argument. He did not have a legal right to Corbitt’s apartment: He broke in with two other men, and when the resident looked like he “was going to pull a gun from his pants” Isaac shot him twice. Even though Isaac does not have a credible chance to walk free under Stand Your Ground, the South Carolina Supreme Court may decide he should get the hearing that was previously denied where his lawyer will repeat the argument. Once rejected, the case would move onto a murder trial.
While Isaac’s case goes too far, other Stand Your Ground defendants have succeeded on dubious legal claims authorized by the statute’s broadly permissive language. ProPublica has highlighted some of the most notable Stand Your Ground cases that have led to freedom from criminal prosecution: One man avoided prosecution for shooting two men he suspected burglarized a neighbor’s home, another killed a mentally disabled man who was unarmed, and yet another was let off for chasing a burglar for more than a block.
Most famously, Zimmerman originally claimed he had immunity from prosecution because Florida’s Stand Your Ground allowed him to pursue Trayvon Martin for looking suspicious. He dropped the claim, and argued self-defense instead when he went to trial, but the jury instructions contained Stand Your Ground language, and a juror admitted it still played a role in their decision to acquit him of all charges.
Empirical evidence also shows how the law perpetuates racial bias in the justice system: A white shooter who kills a black victim is 11 times more likely to walk free than a black shooter who kills a white victim.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke out against Stand Your Ground, saying, “it’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods.”