Saturday, August 03, 2013


Stand Your Ground Laws (SYG)

There is much controversy concerning the Stand your Ground Laws in many states. There are valid arguments on both sides, and I hope to show the most important of them here in a Pro versus Con style.


1. A citizen lawfully in a locale may exercise his right of self defense without having to first retreat from the conflict.

2. A citizen may use reasonable and sufficient force to stop the threat to his person. This is the standard Self Defense law incorporated into the SYG Law.

3. Sufficient force may include use of a legally carried weapon to injure or kill the threatening person. Again, it is the SD Law currently in force in many jurisdictions.

4. If SYG is evoked, and upheld, there is no recourse in law for civil suits because the law grants immunity to the perpetrator from any further legal action.


1. Many encounters have no witnesses, and the citizen that has used lethal force, and then claims Self Defense, in this case is the only person considered in the claim, since the only other person is dead. This leads to the accusation of a “License to Kill” for the SYG Law. One can insure that there are no witnesses and proceed to kill an enemy, while claiming SYG/SD. The police have no recourse but to let the person go.

2. Prior events leading up to the conflict are not considered to be relevant, such as provocative behavior of the claimant, use of racial epithets, a bigoted mindset and accompanying actions, or other damaging actions.

Obviously, there are opposing requirements here: the need for all citizens to have a public Stand Your Ground/Self-Defense right versus the need to prevent improper use of the SYG/SD Law to commit murder and get away with it free and clear.

This is the agonizing dilemma.

Does this law do more harm than good? Does this law help the weak and feeble protect themselves against strong and ruthless predators? Or does the law really open the door to more and more “falsely excusable” murders?

It appears to me that the Self Defense Law is crucial, whereas the provision in the SYG Law that you do not have to attempt retreat is somewhat superfluous. In frontal assault situations, to turn and try to flee is to give the attacker an overwhelming advantage. In rear assault cases, such as in a mugging, you do not have the luxury of retreating. If you are pinned to the ground by the assaulter you cannot retreat. If the assaulter is pointing a gun at you, to run is quite possibly to die. If you are armed, to attempt to draw your weapon is to be shot. The only time you may attempt to retreat safely is well before any assault has taken place and well away from the potential trouble. This requires that you must assess the situation at a safe distance, using profiling or simply common sense, in time to make a safe exit. This is not always possible or practicable.

What is a safe distance? Out of range of any weapon the assaulter may have, and out of range of being run down before you can escape to a safe place. (Just how fast and how far can an average citizen run: not very fast and not very far.)This means the minimal open-field safe distance is on the order of 25 to 50 yards or more for handguns, and 200 to 400 yards or more for a rifle. Few people can make the necessary identification of danger at these distances, especially to identify the weapon held, hidden or holstered by the potential attacker or attackers. Most assaults are a surprise to the victim at very close quarters anyway, which virtually eliminates the idea of running away in the first place.

The real and somewhat obscure objection to the SYG Law as it is written in most places is the fact that: 1) it officially eliminates the hazy Must Run idea from consideration as a guilt factor in the deliberations of a jury; and 2) it eliminates the possibility of a civil lawsuit for wrongful death by granting immunity to the user of deadly force in self defense to further legal action. This places prosecutors in a difficult situation when trying to extract their form of justice from a deadly encounter, where the defendant has claimed Self Defense and it inhibits lawyers from instituting a wrongful death suit. Such suits do not require the level of proof of guilt that a murder trial does (that is, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”), and the penalties can be substantial, sometimes in the multiple millions, thus rewarding the victim’s family heavily and, not so incidentally, massively rewarding the lawyers that represented the family. Fees of up to 30% and even 50% of the reward are common.
Thus, one can understand why defense lawyers and a victim’s family object to SYG Laws as they are currently written.

The classic illustration of this fact in action is the O.J. Simpson trials, where he was acquitted of the killings, but in the following wrongful death suit he was found guilty and penalized most of his millions.

Many tomes were written to prove this not to be double jeopardy, but many if not most ordinary citizens find it to be onerous and unfair, even as they approve the fact that OJ was found guilty in the wrongful death trial. When is a not guilty verdict merely the lead in to being stripped of one’s fortune, and making a gaggle of lawyers rich? The SYG Law was designed to stop this, among other considerations.

On balance, I believe that the SYG Laws offer the most benefit for the most people, while I recognize that it is imperfect. There are over two milliom encounters per year between law-abiding citizens and criminals where a firearm is involved. Grand Juries, Judges and court juries must assume the task of sorting out the true versus false self defense claims. If some murders are committed in the false assumption of self defense, that is the penalty for our human failings.


Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?