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Know facts about 'stand your ground' laws before facing decision, legal experts say

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Know the facts about “stand your ground” legislation before you find yourself in a situation where you must make a quick life-or-death decision, legal experts say.

Meg Mirshak
Staff Writer
Twitter: @megmirshak
E-mail | 706-823-3228

The self-defense law continues to make news, most recently in South Carolina, where the state Supreme Court ruled last week that a person who kills or wounds another and claims “stand your ground” immunity cannot delay his trial by an appeal.

Until the ruling, a person who was denied immunity by a judge could appeal before undergoing trial. Now, any appeals will have to come after a defendant undergoes trial and is found guilty.

In Georgia and South Carolina, “stand your ground” legislation mirrors that of Florida, where neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted of wrongdoing in the death of Trayvon Martin. The Zimmerman trial captured the nation’s attention and called into question “stand your ground” laws, although Zimmerman’s attorneys did not use the Florida statute to defend him.

Under “stand your ground” laws, a person who is threatened with serious force, even in a public place, can retaliate with force of his own, said University of Georgia School of Law professor Ronald Carlson.

In states where “stand your ground” does not exist, a person threatened by force has an obligation to retreat and can strike back only if the threat continues.

The “castle doctrine” grants a person immunity for defending himself inside his home.

Carlson said “stand your ground applies” to a person who “must be reasonably in fear of death or grave bodily harm” when using force in retaliation. Making that assessment can come under scrutiny, and circumstances are often difficult to prove in court.

“It cannot be casually employed,” Carlson said.

Kenneth Gaines, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, said uses of force under threat occur suddenly without time for one to reflect
before retaliating.

“The safest thing to do is to make sure they reasonably believe deadly force is necessary in the first place,” Gaines said. “But, at what point does that happen?”

Immunity hearings, when the person invoking “stand your ground” goes before a judge before a trial, pose significant procedural problems, Gaines said.

“The defendant is forced to lay out the case beforehand. If it goes against them, then they have to go to trial and appeal after that,” he said.

A judge in Georgia also can rule before a trial in an immunity hearing.

Critics of “stand your ground” laws, which exist in 22 states, are creating pressure to revisit legislation. Those who argue against the effectiveness of the laws say they create more conflict, violence and use of deadly force, Carlson said.

Still, supporters of “stand your ground” laws say they deter crime and permit a person to avoid being robbed, mugged or assaulted, he said.

Carlson said that there will be strong efforts in Georgia to reconsider the legislation, which was enacted in 2006 but that the majority opinion of the state Legislature will likely be not to change the law.

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Little Lamb
Little Lamb 08/28/13 - 10:39 pm
Good Clarification

From the story:

Still, supporters of “stand your ground” laws say they deter crime and permit a person to avoid being robbed, mugged or assaulted, he said.

This shows why George Zimmerman's attorney did not ask for a "stand your ground" hearing. Zimmerman could not avoid being assaulted. He was being pummeled at the very instant he pulled the trigger.

Self defense, all the way.

pantherluvcik 08/29/13 - 06:58 am
I'm so sick of hearing about

I'm so sick of hearing about Zimmerman and his false self defense claims. An adult man who outweighed a teenager crying about being pummeled as you say by someone he pursued and followed after being told not to is laughable. If you were walking in the dark and someone stalked you in a vehicle and then began following you on foot you would think that person was trying to harm you, as did Trayvon i'm sure. So he was just defending himself by your standards. It amazes me what people can justify in their minds because of their own personal stereotypes and labels. If I believed someone was about to harm me I would stay in my truck and watch from a distance, unless of course I had a gun like Zimmerman and knew the odds were in my favor. Have all the opinions you want but God has the last say.

TruthJusticeFaithHope 08/29/13 - 07:00 am

Wow... MIRSHAK MISSED A KEY DIFFERENCE IN THE STATE LAWS... In both GA and SC If there is an argument or altercation before a shooting... Stand Your Ground can NEVER be invoked... Never ... That is a huge difference when comparing the three states laws.

REDRIDER 08/29/13 - 07:42 am
Laws To Protect

Ok a person tries to rob you and you argue with them and then shoot and kill them. Then you can't call stand your ground in a court of law? More confused than I was before. I know if you "feared for you life" rule stands in all states to take a stand to protect yourself with whatever means of protection you can use.

jimmymac 08/29/13 - 08:23 am

The SYG law was put in place so a person could defend themselves from possible assault, robbery, etc. The people now crying about it forget that Zimmerman never shot Martin under the guise of SYG. He shot him in self defense. The current cries are just a knee jerk reaction and is being pushed a first step to repeal the peoples right to self defense. They want desperately to turn the whole country into a Chicago style asylum.

nocnoc 08/29/13 - 08:39 am
Good article

Could the AC boil it down in a summary also?

"Carlson said that there will be strong efforts in Georgia to reconsider the legislation...,"

Even the Criminals have Lobbyists?

bdouglas 08/29/13 - 09:05 am
Why was this story even

Why was this story even assigned now? Seems to me like it was nothing more than an attempt by the AC to stir the pot again when it didn't need any more stirring...

dichotomy 08/29/13 - 09:07 am
Note to lawmakers: I don't

Note to lawmakers: I don't care what you do. I do not need your permission to protect myself, my family, or my property wherever I am. Your little rule of thumb about "fearing for your life" is pretty much irrelevant now. Hell, nowadays I fear for my life walking down the road in Oklahoma, sitting in my car outside a bowling alley, pushing a baby stroller down the sidewalk in Savannah. I fear for my life from punks with guns while going across town on Bobby Jones or getting out of my car in the parking lot at Lowe's. Lawmakers trying to define when I can "stand my ground" is kind of like the judge talking about pornography........the law cannot define it but I know it when I see it.

Riverman1 08/29/13 - 11:21 am
The One Who Hits the Other

When someone feels the discussion is not going his way and begins to beat the other person that seems to be a pretty clear justification for the person being beaten to use his gun. Are we going to let discussions be decided by someone beating the other one? What if someone is in court and he doesn't like what the opposing attorney is saying to him? Can he knock the lawyer down and jump on top of him and start punching? The judge?

Riverman1 08/29/13 - 12:14 pm
Here's Another Point

This is one the person who pulls a gun should be careful about. If someone pulls a gun on someone during an argument then the other person can take whatever action necessary to defend himself. So before someone ever pulls a gun he better be sure and be ready to shoot. Waiving a gun as a means to scare someone could get you killed and the other person not be charged.

In the Martin case if it could have been shown that Z pulled the gun before Martin began to hit him the verdict would have been different. But everything pointed to Z being knocked down and beaten before he pulled his gun.

chascushman 08/29/13 - 02:34 pm
" It amazes me what people

" It amazes me what people can justify in their minds because of their own personal stereotypes and labels."
panther, I agree if Zimmerman had been black and Martin white nothing would have been said.

Darby 08/29/13 - 02:51 pm
Thanks, AC. That article must

Thanks, AC. That article must have been sitting on someone's desk, waiting for a slow news day.

Why inject Zimmerman into the piece then state that his case didn't apply?

Although it did give pantherluvcik an opportunity to lionize the thug and petty criminal, Trayvon Martin.
(As his name was used to cheapen the commemoration of MLK's "Dream" speech earlier this week.)


“The safest thing to do is to make sure they reasonably believe deadly force is necessary in the first place,” Gaines said. “But, at what point does that happen?”

Guess you need to keep a printed check list in your pocket.

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