"Three Self-Defense Laws That Could Be Even Worse Than Stand Your Ground"
The acquittal of George Zimmerman has reignited the national conversation about so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that authorize deadly force in self-defense anywhere a person has a legal right to be, without a duty to mitigate the harm by attempting retreat. The Trayvon Martin killing and many other fatal shootings are raising deeply troubling questions about what sort of civilian vigilantism, discrimination, and arbitrary judgment is authorized by laws that put discretion into the hands of civilians.
But the notorious Stand Your Ground provision is one of several that give broad discretion to civilians to use inordinate force in self-defense. Below are three other force-empowering provisions that are just as, if not even more, expansive:
1. Texas: Deadly Force In Defense Of Personal Property.
Stand Your Ground laws authorize deadly force not just when an individual has reasonable fear of death; but also for fear of great bodily harm or a “forcible felony.” In many states, these provisions are potentially authorizing disproportionate force in response to a fear of crimes as low-level as third-degree assault or robbery. But even these crimes involve injury to a person.
Texas is different. In Texas, one can use deadly force not just to protect a person, but also to protect personal property, including to “retrieve stolen property at night,” during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means. This law recently garnered attention when lawyers used the provision to defend a man acquitted in the deadly shooting of an escort who refused to have sex with him. In other cases, the law has been the basis for not pressing charges against individuals who shoot and kill suspected car burglars, and an individual suspected of stealing copper wiring from a car. It is worth noting that some other states authorize the use of force to protect personal property, but not deadly force.
2. Indiana: Right To Shoot The Police.
Last year, Indiana became the first and only state to enact an NRA-backed law that specifically allows civilian force against law enforcement officers and other “public servants” when they are engaging in “unlawful activity.” The statute came in response to a court ruling that held the exact opposite – that individuals could not use deadly force to protect against a police intrusion, even if they questioned the legality of the intrusion.
The law authorizes “reasonable force” against any unlawful entry or trespass by police, and even deadly force to prevent serious bodily injury and what the shooter deems unlawful activity. While the allowance for deadly force is narrow, police have expressed serious concern that an occupant of a home confronting a police break-in will not be able to properly assess, in the heat of the moment, whether or not the officer entered the home pursuant to a lawful warrant or other public safety exception authorized by the U.S. Constitution, and whether that officer poses a legitimate danger.
3. Majority Of States: The Expanded Castle Doctrine.
Stand Your Ground laws and other expanded self-defense provisions all derived from the old English common law concept that individuals have a right to defend their homes. The original “Castle Doctrine” gave individuals a right to protect their home against intruders, even if that meant using deadly force. Because they were protecting their home, courts carved out an exception to the general rule that individuals protecting themselves must first attempt to mitigate the harm, or “retreat,” so that an individual would not be forced to retreat from their own home.
Stand Your Ground laws that expand that “no duty to retreat” concept to anywhere an individual has a right to be have been described as an expansion of the Castle Doctrine. But they are not the only expansion passed in countless states. Many states have also incorporated into their laws similar authority to use deadly force in protection of their “occupied vehicles” or offices, and have expanded the conception of the home to include not just the house but the curtilage – a legal term for the property surrounding the house. While Stand Your Ground laws confer the right to use deadly force to protect against a forcible felony anywhere someone has a right to be, individuals can use deadly force against much less when one is defending their home, vehicle, or office. In a number of states, the law presumes a reasonable fear of imminent peril or death if an individual is unlawfully entering an occupant’s home, car, or office. The expanded Castle Doctrine has been used to justify a shooting against a burglary of a neighbor’s home, and the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old who walked onto a neighbor’s porch to escape a potential police bust of underaged drinking. And just this week, a Virginia woman shot at a car that used her driveway to turn around on the highway — an intrusion she argues is an unlawful entry onto her property.