As jury selection continues in the trial of Michael Dunn for the killing of Jordan Davis, in which Dunn has claimed the stand your ground defense, a frightening fact has come to light. In Florida alone there have been 26 children and teens killed by shooters who asserted a stand your ground defense or were granted immunity under the provisions of that ill-conceived law.
Florida was the first state to enact a stand your ground law in 2005. Other states have since followed, and now the ALEC legislation is the law in nearly half of the states. While the law is seen as “common sense” by the NRA and ALEC and their admirers, it is seen by others as a dangerous change to the definition of self defense and an invitation to vigilantism.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has said that the duty to retreat if possible is a contradiction of traditional legal requirements. “If you’re attacked on the street by a violent attacker, you’re obliged to turn and run is a notion that is contrary to hundreds of years of our jurisprudence,” Cruz said.
The facts do not support this position in any way. For over two centuries, the standard in Anglo-American law has been that if retreat is a possibility, that has to be the first defensive action taken. Only if retreat was not a viable possibility was deadly force considered to be a legitimate defense.
There has long been an exception to that in most states, in one’s own home it is not necessary to retreat first, this is known as the “castle doctrine” which holds that it is unreasonable to ask that one retreat from his own home.
The Tampa Bay Times has analyzed some 200 stand your ground cases and found that 26 of those victims were children or teens. They found that not only were the majority of the victims unarmed, but that the majority of shooters were acquitted or granted total immunity, meaning that the victim’s families are prevented from bringing a civil suit against them after they go free.
The youngest victim in Florida was Sherdavia Jenkins who was caught in the crossfire when a drug related dispute broke out in the courtyard of the housing project where the nine year old lived. One of the two young black men convicted in her death tried to assert stand your ground claiming that he was afraid the other man was going to pull a gun so he drew first.
Another unarmed victim, Christopher Cote, 19 had been involved in a dispute with a new neighbor, Jose Tapones, 62 while walking his dog early in the morning. Cote returned later in the day to talk to Tapones about it and was met at the door by the older man who was wielding a shotgun which he fired twice killing Cote.
Tapones was denied stand your ground status in his first trial and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 15 years, however an appeals court overturned that conviction and he was acquitted in a second trial.
Not all of the victims were completely blameless, some had initiated the confrontation that led to their deaths and some were indeed armed. But a stand your ground law would not be necessary in such a case for an affirmative defense to be held valid. All that is accomplished with these laws is that too many people see it as a get-out-of-jail-free card allowing them to become judge, jury and executioner with no consequences.
How many children and teens must die before the states which have enacted these barbaric laws open their eyes to the insanity inherent in them and repeal them?