Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Self Defense v. Stand Your Ground

The media likes to gin up controversy where there is none because it generates clicks and revenue. This is disgraceful.

In a recent incident in Georgia, three teenagers tried to rob some people standing out in front of their home. The teens age 15 to 16 approached the group while wearing masks over their heads. One drew a pistol and started firing it at the residents. Unfortunately for the teens, the residents were armed and fired back, killing all three of them.

Of course, it's unlikely that the residents will be charged with any crime, as they were defending themselves from an armed robbery.  Once people start shooting at you, or even if they wave a gun at you, you have a right to defend yourself from threats of imminent death or great bodily harm.

That is the classic definition of self-defense. If you do ever get in a situation where you killed someone, the only thing you should say to the police is, "I was in fear of imminent death or great bodily harm," and "I want a lawyer."   Say nothing else.

It's a pretty straightforward story and a pretty open-and-shut case of self-defense. But the news media has to make it into something it isn't by mentioning stand-your-ground laws and the fact that Georgia, among 10 other states, has such a law. They then quote the self-defense statute and claim this is the stand-your-ground law which it is not.  They're trying to conflate the two things together to make it seem like some sort of outrage that these young hoodlums were gunned down trying to rob and murder people.

Stand-your-ground laws really merely codify an aspect of self-defense.  In some jurisdictions, the question has come up as to whether self-defense allows you to use deadly force against someone who is trying to attack you, if you haven't at first use other, less deadly alternatives, such as retreating from the scene.

If somebody comes after you brandishing a baseball bat saying, "I'm going to bash your goddamn head in!" do you have an obligation to try to run away from them?  Suppose you could run away from them and avoid being hurt?  Or can you simply draw your pistol and shoot them as they clearly intend to hurt you?

The problem is, of course, in situations like this, no one is really thinking very clearly.  In the heat of the moment, one might not necessarily be thinking logically enough to measure the distance between you and the nearest police station and calculate the relative running speeds of the attacker and the victim and determine whether you have a clear avenue of escape.  In fact, it would be impossible to make such mental calculation at the spur of the moment.

Of course, in the courtroom, weather at a civil trial for wrongful death or the criminal trial for manslaughter, people can raise these questions in the relaxed atmosphere of the courtroom where people have hours, if not days, to consider such questions.  In the light of day, it may seem rational that someone could retreat and should have made that choice.

Some conservative States saw this is an outrage. They saw this as an example of the law of self-defense being watered down in favor of criminals. If people were required to make such mental calculations before using the right of self-defense, they could end up as victims. Even if they successfully defend themselves, they might end up being victimized later in court.

Sadly, the media likes to do this sort of thing, conflating self-defense cases with stand your ground cases. They want to vilify the stand-your-ground law and will use any case as an example of why the law should be repealed.  The BBC in particular was quick to label this a "stand your ground case" because the Brits love to run down America (the Guardian and the Independent do little else).   Perhaps this distracts people from the looming fiasco that is Brexit.

The most famous example of this conflation of self-defense with stand-your-ground, is the Treyvon Martin case where a young hispanic man shot young black teenager who he suspected of burglarizing homes in this area. Many people were outraged that he was acquitted of the crime, as he argued that he was only acting in self-defense when he shot the teen.

Regardless of whether you think that case was an outrage or not, it was not a stand your ground case. The defendant never raise the defense of stand your ground, but rather  common law self defense.  And the reason is pretty simple - it is a lot easier to win a self-defense case without clouding things with stand-your-ground.   If you felt you were going to be subject to "imminent death or great bodily harm" then lethal force is justified.  If you raise the stand-your-ground issue, things get more complicated.   Thus, few cases are brought under the stand-your-ground statute, as in most cases, it is just an unnecessary complication of a self-defense defense.

Of course, in Florida and most other States, juries are instructed - even in self-defense cases - that the defendant accused has no obligation to seek retreat or other avenues of escape, if he felt he was threatened with imminent death or great bodily harm.  And this applies in States with and without "Stand your ground" laws.  Only Vermont has an explicit "duty to retreat" enacted into law.  Some argue that this is an outrage - again, that people who are being robbed, mugged, raped, assaulted, or murdered, have to look around and figure out the least intrusive means of of disabling or evading their robber, rapist, mugger, or murder.

I can tell you firsthand, when someone is chasing you with a length of steel pipe, threatening to beat your head to a pulp, there isn't a lot of time to do that sort of calculation.   I ran away, only because it was my only option at the time.   And I was lucky in that I was able to outrun my attackers.   But suppose I hadn't been lucky - or suppose I was armed, instead?   It becomes a messy question, and Monday-morning quarterbacking is all-too-easy to do.

What it gets down to is the fundamental right of citizens to defend themselves versus the rights of criminals to have a "safe space" to commit their crimes.   From what I understand, places like Baltimore, Chicago, Newark, and now Minneapolis are now declared "safe spaces" for criminals to commit assaults, robberies, or even murders, without having to face hazards in their workplace. Perhaps OSHA is now regulating this.  No one would mind if the criminals went on strike for better working conditions.

Of course, what people on the left fail to realize, is that there is a 100% safe way to avoid such workplace injury, and that is to not assault, rob, rape, or murder people.   You see, "stand your ground" and self-defense don't apply when no crime is being committed.

And that was, of course, the point of the Treyvon Martin case - it was unclear what crime, if any, the young black teen was committing.  The only witness to the incident was the defendant at trail, who claimed he was being assaulted by Martin, although one other witness claims he saw Martin standing over Zimmerman, punching him.  His physical injuries and a 911 audio seemed to indicate that this might have been the case - or at least enough for a jury to find reasonable doubt.

But bad cases like that make for bad law - and using that case as a poster-child for abolishing "stand your ground" laws is like using Chelsea Manning as a poster-child for transgender rights.

What irks me is that the left seems to be enamored of criminals as of late, putting the rights of criminals - including violent criminals - over the rights of citizens.   This sort of thing isn't going to sell well outside of certain left-leaning States.   Sure, it may win California - but the Democrats will win that State anyway.   It may not sell well in the States the Democrats need to win.