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In Defense of 'Stand Your Ground


Opposition to this particular type of law is unsurprisingly coming from the left.

George Zimmerman, right, talks to court security investigator Robert Hemmert during a recess after a jury question in the 25th day of his trial at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center, in Sanford, Fla., Saturday, July 13, 2013. Zimmerman has been charged with the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Credit: AP

"Stand Your Ground" laws have gotten quite a bum rap lately, mostly due to the controversy surrounding the George Zimmerman case.  Opposition to this particular type of law is unsurprisingly coming from the left, especially from prominent black liberal figures including the reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

Never mind that Zimmerman's attorneys did not mount a defense based on Stand Your Ground.  The left is simply taking advantage of this opportunity in their never ending quest for “social justice,” facts be damned.  In the process they have callously painted targets upon the backs of Zimmerman and his family members by transforming Trayvon Martin into a symbol for their misguided cause.     

It is not as easy to mount a Stand Your Ground defense in Florida's courts as the leftist media would have the American public believe.  There are some procedural considerations that make a Stand Your Ground defense different from a typical self-defense claim. 

A Stand Your Ground defense in Florida requires a pretrial hearing for immunity from prosecution to be held before the actual trial commences.  Here the burden of proof lies with the defense, not the prosecution, creating a sort of role reversal.  The defense must show based upon a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant reasonably feared for his or her life and that the application of force, up to and including deadly force, was legally justified. 

Zimmerman's counsel likely eschewed this tactic because there was little chance of meeting the required standard of proof based upon the available evidence.  No witnesses saw the initial struggle between Martin and Zimmerman break out.  None of them knew who struck first.  Claims made by witnesses about who was screaming for help that night were at best conjecture and at worst biased. 

A preponderance of the evidence probably wouldn't have lent enough weight to Zimmerman's story for him to obtain immunity from prosecution during a Stand Your Ground pretrial.  Zimmerman's attorneys instead made a standard self-defense case and laid the burden of proof upon the prosecution in a regular trial. 

The liberal media also attempted to use another recent case involving a black woman, Marissa Alexander, to demonstrate a perceived racial bias in the application of Stand Your Ground laws in Florida.  Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison for discharging a “warning shot” at her estranged husband, Rico Gray.  She claimed she was in fear for her life and used a Stand Your Ground defense. 

It was later revealed that Gray lied during his deposition in order to protect his wife, and Alexander's claims that she was defending herself and feared for her life were shown to be quite dubious.  The media quickly seemed to lose interest in the case once the facts came out.  Her motion for dismissal was denied and she was convicted after receiving a fair trial.  I advise readers of this article to review the court docket themselves for further edification. 

Ideally, a Stand Your Ground defense should only prevail in cases where it is quite clear that the defendant was acting in self-defense.  When used properly it can prevent an unnecessarily lengthy trial.  In that respect Florida's Stand Your Ground law worked as intended in both of the above cases.  Alexander's defense could not withstand the additional scrutiny permitted under a Stand Your Ground pretrial, and Zimmerman's defense likely would have fared no better.

As for the societal effects of Stand Your Ground, they are worth debating and by no means demonstrably negative or positive where deterrence is concerned.  Florida's Stand Your Ground law was enacted in 2005.  Violent crime rates were on the decline before the law was put into effect and have continued to drop since.  It is therefore questionable that Stand Your Ground provides a deterrent for violent crime, although it is worth noting that violent crime rates declined faster after Stand Your Ground was signed into law. 

What is certain is that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of “justifiable homicides” in Florida since Stand Your Ground was enacted.  The effect of the law on this increase in justifiable homicides has been shown to be what statisticians call statistically significant with a high level of confidence.  In layman's terms that means we can be pretty darned certain that these justifiable homicides are the direct result of implementing Stand Your Ground.  This is a good thing if one believes that it's ethical to use force for self-defense. 

One valid question is whether these so-called justifiable homicides are really cases of self-defense or just a bunch of people getting away with murder.  An editorial in the New York Times cited a study of 200 sampled cases conducted by the Tampa Bay Times.  The summary conclusion was that Stand Your Ground was “used at least six times in drug deals gone lethal, 23 times in barroom fights . . . and 30 times in arguments turned violent.”  However, the truth is that pretrial immunity from prosecution was not granted in most of these cases, and so Florida's Stand Your Ground law had little to do with their outcomes.

I surmise that the very concept of justifiable homicide is the left's real issue with Stand Your Ground laws.  They simply don't believe it's ethically permissible to kill in self-defense.  They are similarly against capital punishment and the right to bear arms, yet they're perfectly fine with allowing people who practice “medicine” to pull children out of their mothers' wombs and murder them in cold blood.  This is rather troubling when one considers that murderers have constitutional rights which include due process, while unborn children do not.   

It's a shame that reasonably discussing the issue won't please the left.  They're determined to have Stand Your Ground laws completely eliminated, and they're willing to keep race baiting and inciting civil unrest in order to make sure that happens.  People have already been harmed in the resulting chaos.  The liberal media has relished covering it all in graphic detail.  I, for one, will be keeping my guns loaded.

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