By Chuck Norton
The recent trial of George Zimmerman has been used as a tool among anti-Second Amendment advocates to attack the concept of self defense, gun ownership, and “Castle Doctrine” laws also known as “Stand Your Ground” laws. While neither the prosecution or the defense argued on the bases of such a law it was still a part of the jury instructions in the case. Those hostile to the human right of self defense such as Van Jones and Eric Holder are putting all of their chips of criticism on a section of law that was merely a footnote in this trial.
UPDATE – Obama co-sponsored a bill that strengthened Illinois Stand Your Ground law – LINK.
The Case Against Castle Doctrine Laws
Some believe that such laws give the person with the firearm “too much” benefit of the doubt in that, some people who might not have absolutely had to use deadly force would use deadly force knowing that the law was in effect. There will be cases, in the view of some prosecutors, where the circumstances did not justify the use of deadly force, but the way the statute is written does. In some cases fear that was not reasonable or immediate could be argued by slick lawyers to make it appear that the person with the gun had a reasonable fear.
In a worst case scenario there may be cases where someone who acted in a moment of rage would dress up that rage as “legitimate fear” of bodily injury and escape prosecution. The way such laws are written is overly vague and may invite disaster that is not completely warranted, thus making a mockery of the intent of the law.
Let us be clear, there have been and will be a small number of cases where this law is misapplied, but is that a case for repealing the law altogether or merely revisiting the law’s language and interpretation for improvement?
The Case For Castle Doctrine Laws
Twenty-one states have castle doctrine laws. The National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbied for such laws for some very good reasons.
“Must retreat” laws have resulted in unneeded deaths and bodily injury as well as a great many unjustified prosecutions of citizens who were defending themselves legitimately. This is not a “may” or a “could” and this is not a theory. There is a long, almost incalculable, list of examples and cases where such laws resulted in great bodily harm or death of innocents. There is an equally long list of prosecutions by overzealous and/or politically motivated prosecutions by prosecutors who are dead against citizens owning firearms or other political reasons that have no place in a court of law.
The George Zimmerman case was just such a prosecution. The chief of police and the local prosecutor refused to file charges against Zimmerman because the the evidence did not warrant it. The police chief was fired under the political pressure and a special prosecutor was appointed. The prosecution was caught breaking the law by illegally hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense about the state of mind and history of Trayvon Martin and it was a prosecution staffer who blew the whistle. The prosecutor lied to the judge, misled the court and was not forthcoming with the evidence. “Criminally perjurious“, “corrupt and politically motivated” is how (liberal) Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz described the prosecution.
“Must retreat” laws endanger the public. Victims of domestic violence and others who are required to make an attempt to retreat tactically give the aggressor more time to carry out their attacks. They require the victim to make snap legal judgments that can mean decades in prison while they should be focused on defending themselves and loved ones in chaotic and crisis situations.
Must retreat laws allow lawyers months to “Monday morning quarterback” someone who was in terrible danger and was forced into making a snap judgment; thus, in application, putting a burden of proof on the victim which is a violation of due process in the 5th and 14th Amendments.
Castle Doctrine laws require that prosecutors do what they have been constitutionally charged with doing since the founding of the republic; prove their case.
Fortunately concealed carry permit holders (which does not include those who merely keep a firearm in their home) have shown themselves to be very responsible gun owners with good judgment.
Since the George Zimmerman trial was in Florida, lets us look at the rate that people given a concealed carry permit have those permits revoked for inappropriate conduct. That rate in Florida is 1.4 revocations per thousand. One knows that the application of the law is never perfect, but a .0014% rate is as close to perfect as anyone could hope for.
Stand Your Ground laws must be repealed because George Zimmerman was a racist blah, blah, blah:
It is monumentally irrelevant who is morally guilty in a court of criminal law. If one thinks that George Zimmerman was observing Trayvon Martin for police because Martin is black or if one thinks that there is a 60% chance that George Zimmerman was guilty of some kind of ill will, than the responsible juror must return a verdict of not guilty. Such moral judgments have no place. Why? Because if they did people would get convicted because they were a fool or a jerk, not because they actually violated the law. In short, even a Klansman has the right to defend himself with deadly force against someone who is smashing his head against a four inch thick block of cement.
Stand Your Ground Laws must be repealed because they can be misapplied:
In the George Zimmerman case the law against second degree murder was misapplied, shall we repeal it?
Stand your ground laws are a license to kill any black person you see (you can thank Al Sharpton for this one) :
African Americans benefit from Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law at a rate far out of proportion to their presence in the state’s population, despite an assertion by Attorney General Eric Holder that repealing “Stand Your Ground” would help African Americans.
Black Floridians have made about a third of the state’s total “Stand Your Ground” claims in homicide cases, a rate nearly double the black percentage of Florida’s population. The majority of those claims have been successful, a success rate that exceeds that for Florida whites.
You will never see a case where “Stand Your Ground” protects a black person with a smoking gun is standing over a white person (you can thank a guest on the Sean Hannity show for this one):
Roderick Scott (2) says he acted in self defense when he confronted Christopher Cervini and two others saying they were stealing from neighbors cars. He told them he had a gun and ordered them to freeze and wait for police. Scott says he shot Cervini twice when the victim charged toward him yelling he was going to get Scott.
Stand Your Ground allows people with guns to shoot unarmed people:
In 2011, 728 people were killed with hands and feet, 496 with blunt objects, and 1694 with knives; more so than people are killed with rifles and shotguns.
If three men confront you in dark ally and say that they are going to rape you and cut you the prudent person would shoot them even if it was before they saw a knife and even if the three later proved to be unarmed.
Interestingly enough, the NAACP is calling for the release of a black man in Georgia after he shot a white man in self defense:
John McNeil, 46, received a life sentence in November 2006 after killing a white man who was trespassing on his property. Police detectives investigating the case determined that McNeil acted in self-defense, but Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head decided a year later to try the case and won a conviction.
The incident took place Dec. 6, 2005, when McNeil arrived home after his teenage son had called him about an unfamiliar man lurking about their property.
Brian Epp, a hired contractor with whom McNeil had past difficulties, had already pulled a knife on the teenager.
Epp refused to leave, and McNeil, who had called 9-1-1, fired a warning shot into the ground. Epp then charged toward McNeil while reaching into his pocket. McNeil fatally shot him in the head at close range. Court documents state that a pocketknife was clipped inside Epp’s pants pocket. McNeil’s neighbors who witnessed the incident backed his story.
Kennesaw police detectives investigated the case, decided that McNeil had acted in self-defense and didn’t charge him.
In this case it certainly seems that McNeil was justified in using force to defend himself, but this incident happened a year before Georgia passed it’s Stand Your Ground law, so this prosecutor was able to score another conviction in his portfolio. Stand Your Ground would have protected McNeil, a black man, from what police concluded was an obvious case of self defense.
The McNeil case should be reviewed. If one would like to contact Governor Nathan Deal to ask that John McNeil be pardoned, or at least have his life sentence commuted, one can do so HERE.
UPDATE – Law Professor Eugene Volokh seems to have proposed several of the same points – LINK