American Bar Association to Call for Repeal of Stand Your Ground Laws

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An article posted yesterday on The Trace website reported that The American Bar Association (ABA) will be issuing a resolution this week calling for repeal of the controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws.  The ABA says the laws are racially-biased and provide “a low-cost license to kill.”

The ABA convened a Task Force in 2012 to review the law and recommend policy changes.

Tennessee is one of 33 states that passed some version of a “Stand Your Ground” law.

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The first state to pass it was Florida under then Governor Jeb Bush in 2005.  The prime sponsors of “Stand Your Ground” bills were The National Rifle Association and The American Legislative Exchange Council.

But, what exactly are “Stand Your Ground” laws and how are they different than other self-defense laws?

Self defense laws fall into three basic categories:

Duty to Retreat: Must retreat from the situation if you feel threatened (use of deadly force is considered a last resort); may not use deadly force if you are safely inside your home.

Castle Doctrine: Limited to real property, such as your home, yard, or private office; no duty to retreat (use of deadly force against intruders is legal in most situations); some states, like Missouri and Ohio, even include personal vehicles.

Stand Your Ground: No duty to retreat from the situation before resorting to deadly force; not limited to your property (home, office, etc.).

In other words, you can “Stand Your Ground” anywhere and under any circumstance you feel threatened.  Nothing in the law requires you to consider retreating or otherwise trying to avoid employing deadly force.  Considering that a person “standing their ground” may be doing so in a public place and that they may be the only person standing after a confrontation where there were no witnesses, clearly the law could be used to defend a person who shot someone who wasn’t a threat.

Essentially- shoot first and ask questions (like, is the person I feel threatened by armed or carrying a weapon or were the actually a mortal threat?)

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The report that is to be issued this week is expected to echo a similar report issued last fall.

From the August 2014 Task Force Report:

“The study— which included five regional hearings in Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Miami — revealed five key findings and resulted in a number of recommendations. The findings were:
1) Stand Your Ground states experienced an increase in homicides.
2) Multiple states have attempted to repeal or amend Stand Your Ground laws.
3) The law’s application is unpredictable, uneven and results in racial disparities.
4) A person’s right to self-defense was sufficiently protected prior to Stand Your Ground.
5) Victims’ rights are undermined in states with statutory immunity from criminal prosecution and civil suit related to Stand Your Ground cases.

The new report also reportedly includes a section detailing how racial stereotyping can influence behavior and perceived threats.

From The Trace:

“…the ABA’s task force found that racial stereotypes also influence the courts: a white shooter who kills a black victim is 350 percent more likely to be found justified in the use of lethal force than if the same shooter killed a white victim.

The ABA, a voluntary national organization of lawyers and law students, plays no official role in setting legal policy, but its views can prove influential. The ABA’s House of Delegates, its governing body made up of regional representatives, approved the task force’s recommended policy changes at a meeting in February. Those recommendations include:

Calling a halt to passing more such laws, and repealing those that are on the books.

Failing that, amending laws to no longer grant immunity or allow use of Stand Your

Ground protections in cases where the shooter is the “initial aggressor” or the target is a police officer.

Developing safeguards to “prevent racially disparate impact and inconsistent outcomes” that favor whites over blacks.

Develop clearer jury instructions to resolve confusion over the laws’ provisions.

Train police officers to be better able to decide whether to file criminal charges.

Create a national database to track the handling of Stand Your Ground cases nationwide and train gun owners on the rules of self-defense.”

The American Psychological Association (APA) agrees with the ABA.  The ABA task force included psychologist and APA member James M. Jones, PhD.

From the APA statement:

“Passage of the resolution clearly establishes that the weight of the legal community is squarely against stand your ground laws and provides compelling evidence why,” Jones says. The ABA convened the task force in early 2013 to collect data and analyze Stand Your Ground laws. Two issues the task force scrutinized are how the laws intersect with racial bias and whether their enforcement balances the rights of the accused with those of a victim.
“What we know from our research is that there is a lot of racial and ethnic bias in the judgment of threats,” Jones explains. “So it’s important for us to show inherent bias in laws that use such a subjective criterion for self-defense.”

The ABA task force was able to demonstrate that in “Stand Your Ground” states, there have been no decreases in theft, burglary, or assaults while homicides have gone up.

Whether or not the ABA resolution will have any effect on current or future self-defense laws remains to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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