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Across the United States, there are laws that permit citizens to defend themselves or their occupied property (dependent upon the circumstances) when faced with a threat. Although some states may use an amalgamation of doctrines, there are typically three categories into which laws governing self-defense generally fall:
Stand Your Ground:
A person has no duty to retreat from a threatening situation before employing the use of deadly force. This is not limited to said person’s home or place of work, but rather it extends to any place he or she is lawfully allowed to be.
A person has no duty to retreat before employing the use of deadly force, but only if said person is in his or her place of residence or the yard of his or her place of residence. In some states, however, this law has been expanded to include one’s occupied vehicle and place of employment.
Duty to Retreat:
A person has a duty to retreat from a threatening situation if he or she can do so with (in some states) total safety.
Duty to Retreat and Castle Doctrine
A Duty to Retreat usually refers only to when a person is in public. Several states employ a blend of Castle Doctrine authorizing the use of deadly force in the home, car or another type of abode, but otherwise obligates a person to retreat (such as walk away) when in public. This also only typically applies when he or she has a weapon on their person, were leaving to get one would constitute an opportunity to retreat, thus nullifying any claim of self-defense. States that employ this mix of doctrine include Arkansas; Connecticut; Delaware; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nebraska; New York; New Jersey; and Rhode Island. Both Vermont and Washington D.C., however, obligate citizens to retreat from criminal aggressors or assailants even from within their homes.
The Truth about Stand Your Ground Laws
Stand Your Ground laws are not licensed to inflict undue harm, however, and most states that have adopted Stand Your Ground laws have very specific circumstances under which it can be employed as a defense in either or both civil and criminal proceedings. It does not typically provide for the defense of a provoked attack, or where a person may intentionally initiate a confrontation with the purpose of inflicting harm while protected under the law.
As in the case of Jesse Murray, a Georgia man, who recently faced the charge of malice murder in the first degree (GA Code § 16-5-1 2014) and aggravated assault (GA Code § 16-5-21 2017), the judge may decide that Stand Your Ground does not apply due to the circumstances in which the incident occurred. Murray, 33 at the time of the incident, was out with his wife when a confrontation involving a group of men, including former police officer Nathan Adams, resulted in Adam’s death. Adams, along with three other men, were allegedly attempting to assault Murray and his wife when Murray’s firearm accidentally discharged, striking Adams. After the judge ruled that Murray was not in fear for his life when he was attacked by the four men. He went on to state “nor does it appear to this court that the other men in the vicinity were acting in such a way that would cause the defendant to reason to believe that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or a third party.” As such, Murray faced possible 15-55 years for the death of Adams. Although Murray was clearly not the aggressor in this situation, his case highlights the need for competent and experienced legal representation when dealing with cases of self-defense, as they may not be as clear cut as a layperson might imagine. Murray, though not acquitted, was able to plead to a lesser weapons charge and received five years probation, avoiding prison time altogether.
Stand Your Ground Laws Can be Problematic
Stand Your Ground laws are problematic in several ways. Studies reveal significant racial disparities when the victim is black or otherwise a person of color, versus when the victim is white. This was famously exhibited during the 2012 case of Trayvon Martin, where a member of a local neighborhood watch group in a Florida community was acquitted after unarmed Martin, 17, was fatally shot under unclear circumstances. The neighborhood watch member had followed Martin for several blocks, and when he called to report Martin as a suspicious person, was advised by the local police to disengage. The neighborhood watch member continued his pursuit and eventually confronted Martin, resulting in a struggle that leads to Martin being fatally shot. The neighborhood watch member was acquitted.
Studies also show that Stand Your Ground is not a deterrent to crime. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Human Resources, Stand Your Ground laws actually led to an uptake in homicides and firearm-related injuries. The report states that Stand Your Ground laws “do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and nonnegligent manslaughters.”
What You Should Do if Claiming Self Defense
With any claim of self-defense, a trier must consider:
- The nature and immediacy of the threat or danger
- The likelihood that the threat or danger would result in serious bodily injury or death
- The relationship and any patterns of violence or abuse between parties and
- Any history of violence or violent tendencies
Contact one of our skilled West Long Branch Attorneys to Protect Your Rights
If you have been arrested and are facing criminal charges, you are likely feeling and going through many different emotions. However, you know the actions you are being charged with were to protect yourself or your loved ones. Our criminal attorneys at Chamlin, Rosen, Uliano & Witherington in Asbury Park, Belmar, Brick, Lakewood, Old Bridge Township, Perth Amboy among other locations have defended hundreds of clients in similar circumstances.
Our commitment to every client, in every case, is to use our experience to protect your rights and prepare a strong defense to obtain the best possible outcome in your case. It is vital that you secure experienced legal representation immediately, should you find yourself facing charges of assault, manslaughter, murder or another crime and believe that you acted in the defense of yourself or a third party. Call (732) 440-3950 to schedule an appointment or visit our website to find information and fill an online form.