U.S. Self Defense Laws: Duty to Retreat and Stand Your Ground
There are a lot of controversies over the gun laws, particularly those pertaining to self-defense with a firearm. Many gun owners are confused about the laws of self-defense because different jurisdictions throughout the country have different laws. The most confusion surrounds the laws of “duty to retreat” and “stand your ground.” Certain jurisdictions have a duty to retreat requirement which means that somebody who is threatened by someone else cannot shoot the person making the threat. Instead, they have to retreat to a safe place and simply put themselves out of harm’s way. Then there are other jurisdictions which let people being threatened exercise their “stand-your-ground” rights. Stand-your-ground is a law that lets people being threatened to use deadly force as a method of self-defense if there is truly a reason for them to believe their life is in danger.
A Castle Doctrine (also known as a castle law or a defense of habitation law) is a legal doctrine that designates a person’s abode or any legally occupied place – e.g., a vehicle or home, as a place in which that person has protections and immunities permitting him or her, in certain circumstances, to use force (up to and including deadly force) to defend himself or herself against an intruder, free from legal prosecution for the consequences of the force used.
One famous example of “stand-your-ground” was with the George Zimmerman trial in Florida where he was accused of shooting dead an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. In that case, Zimmerman claimed that Martin was hitting him on the ground repeatedly and that he had a reason to believe his life was in danger. This was his excuse for taking out a gun and shooting Martin. After Zimmerman went through a criminal trial, the jury found him not guilty based on the stand-your-ground law which exists in Florida. But even if this had been a duty to retreat state, Zimmerman may still have gotten away with it.
In criminal law, the duty to retreat, or requirement of safe retreat, is a legal requirement in some jurisdictions that a threatened person cannot stand one’s ground and apply lethal force in self-defense, but must instead retreat to a place of safety.
Duty to retreat doesn’t mean you cannot defend yourself in any situation. What it means is you must do everything you can to avoid using lethal force by retreating to the nearest safe area. However, you are allowed to use lethal force if someone is threatening your life and preventing you from retreating to a safe area. But you must be able to prove that you took steps to try and retreat from the situation first. Otherwise, you could be found guilty in court if you shoot first without trying to retreat. In the case of George Zimmerman, he was allegedly on the ground getting punched repeatedly so one could argue that he was unable to retreat. But it would still be a much tougher defense to prove than “stand-your-ground.”
What is unique about the stand-your-ground law is that it does not require you to retreat. All you have to do is prove that someone posed a real threat to your life and then you can use the “stand-your-ground” legal defense to justify shooting them. For example, if someone breaks into your home, you typically have the right to shoot them in a stand-your-ground state. But they have to be on your property and facing you when you shoot them. There have been people who shoot intruders in the back while they’re running away and then end up getting charged with murder because of it. After all, if someone is running away from you then they obviously don’t pose a threat to your life. Therefore, no jury is going to believe the stand-your-ground defense of a homeowner who shoots an intruder in the back.
When someone poses a threat to your life, it usually means they’re pointing a gun, knife or some other lethal weapon at you. They may even say they’re going to kill you with their own words. People that break into your house are clearly a threat to your life and it is easy to prove they are a threat because they don’t belong in your home. But if someone threatens you outside of your home, that’s when it gets trickier to prove a stand-your-ground defense. For example, if you’re walking down the street with a concealed weapon and someone says they’re going to kill you, it may not be a good idea to just shoot them if you don’t see a weapon. It would be impossible to prove the threat in court.
The duty to retreat law is flexible in some jurisdictions. For instance, if someone is attacked in their home, they don’t necessarily have a duty to retreat because it is their home. Some courts may find the victim had “no duty to retreat” in this situation. But if it’s in a public place, you are required to either run away or hide in an area where you can avoid the attacker. However, when it comes to police officers, they are exempt from the “duty to retreat” law because they are working in the line of duty to stop a particular threat. Of course, they cannot use lethal force unless the person in question poses a threat to their lives.