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Self Defense and Stand Your Ground

Self Defense and "Stand Your Ground"

Posted August 30, 2013

GavelSome state self defense laws include provisions that address duty to retreat from an intruder in one’s home or from an attacker in other places.

The common law principle of “castle doctrine” says that individuals have the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves against an intruder in their home. This principle has been codified and expanded by state legislatures. 

In the 1980s, a handful of state laws (nicknamed “make my day” laws) addressed immunity from prosecution in use of deadly force against another who unlawfully and forcibly enters a person’s residence. In 2005, Florida passed a law related to castle doctrine, expanding on that premise with “stand your ground” language related to self defense and duty to retreat.   Florida’s law states “a person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

Laws in at least 22 states allow that there is no duty to retreat an attacker in any place in which one is lawfully present.  (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.)  At least nine of those states include language stating one may “stand his or her ground.”  (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.)

Pennsylvania's law, amended in 2011, distinguishes use of deadly force outside one’s home or vehicle.  It provides that in such locations one cannot use deadly force unless he has reasonable belief of imminent death or injury, and either he or she cannot retreat in safety or the attacker displays or uses a lethal weapon.  

Self defense laws in at least 22 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee West Virginia and Wisconsin) provide civil immunity under certain self defense circumstances. 

Statutes in at least six states (Hawaii, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota and Tennessee) assert that civil remedies are unaffected by criminal provisions of self defense law. 

With regard to recent legislative proposals, self defense related bills failed in three states in 2013 (Arkansas, Florida and Mississippi, each now adjourned).  A bill in North Carolina (H 976) that would amend aspects of law regarding use of force against an intruder was in committee upon adjournment.  Several measures in New Jersey carried over from 2012 with no 2013 action on those to date.  There were about a dozen bills before state legislatures in 2012, several of which would have amended circumstances for allowed use of force by citizens.  None of those proposals advanced.

 

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