Stand Your Ground – An Alternative to Complete Repeal

September 24, 2013 12:07 pm

by Eric The Younger · 36 comments

The following is an op ed from State Representative LaDawn Jones (D- Atlanta, District 62).

The murder of Trayvon Martin and the lack of knowledge around the Stand Your Ground law have reignited a call for repeal of the law from progressive leaders around the country. I want to offer an alternative.  Instead of a full repeal of the Stand Your Ground doctrine, I believe that the better outcome for Georgia would result from the Legislature making reasonable, measured changes to the law.

It is rare that a single public policy issue has implications cutting across the multiple hats I wear in life – mother, wife, State Legislator, attorney, mentor and above all a Christian.  Because of the multiple points of view I have, I understand that it’s important that Georgians have information that will help them think through this law and what it means for their communities.

In my first term as a State Representative, I have already seen that even the most thoroughly thought out legislative decisions are often accompanied by unintended consequences.  With Stand Your Ground, some of the unintended consequences are foreseeable.   However, my goal is not to force my opinion on anyone.  Rather, I would like to facilitate a discussion about my experiences with Stand Your Ground to provide an additional perspective to Georgians as we reevaluate our values and law of self-defense.

As the only member of the Georgia General Assembly who has tried Stand Your Ground cases as a Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney and criminal defense attorney, my experiences have given me insight into little known facts about the consequences and advantages of Stand Your Ground.  I have personally seen law enforcement, district attorneys, judges and juries work through the decision making process about whether a shooting was justified.  Each time a leader calls for repeal of Stand Your Ground, I see the faces of “good guys” that would unjustly be incarcerated today without the law because they were faced with an imminent danger and protected themselves.  I cannot, however, ignore the fact that there are many instances where the law completely and obviously failed.  I believe the injustice would be as great for the “good guys” who no longer had the benefit of Stand Your Ground as it currently is an injustice to victims whose assailant unfairly used the law.  As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I urge Georgians that before deciding to do away with this law, let’s make sure we fully understand what Stand Your Ground means for us and our society.

This is a good time for us to make an honest assessment of our values and how we want those values protected as it relates to violence in our community.  My defense and prosecution work have shown me that in most cases, no one can be 100% certain about fault in any case of violence.  Keeping that in mind, what options for defense, if any, do we want available to individuals who are facing an imminent danger?  We cannot only look at what we wish would happen, but rather what actually happens daily.  What is your personal answer to, “if they come in my house I would…?” I think many may find that the values we profess out loud are different from those we, or our neighbors, family or friends actually practice.  Now we must ask – are our values accurately reflected by repealing Stand Your Ground law?

There are reasonable changes that can be made to Stand Your Ground that would bring it more closely in line with our values and vision for society. We should start with creating better, clearer definitions of the terms within the Stand Your Ground law.  Who is an assailant?  An aggressor?  What do we mean when we refer to “imminent” danger?  What is required for a person to retreat from an altercation?  Legislatively created definitions of these terms would result in more uniform and better decisions by the entire criminal justice process including the police, the prosecutor, the judge and the jury when Stand Your Ground is at issue in a case.  Clarity is the answer because the criminal defendant, victim, and those that make up the criminal justice system have one thing in common, they are all human and subject to their own perspectives.

The political, racial and cultural issues surrounding Stand Your Ground cannot be ignored.  Yes, there is a reasonable argument that this law had its origin in racial profiling.  However, there are many instances, especially in metro areas, where Stand Your Ground has protected the interests of “good guys” of all races when faced with danger.  I represented a client named Toby who was attacked by an eight-time convicted robber and drug user.  Toby, a business owner, choir member, and registered gun owner shot his assailant to protect himself and his wife at a concert.  After incarceration, the system failed Toby several times but ultimately, Stand Your Ground exonerated him.  The reality is that there are dangerous unintended consequences that would result from a complete repeal of Stand Your Ground.  It is up to the community to decide if their true values make the risk of unintended consequence worth it.  There is 100% certainty that without Stand Your Ground, Toby, and many others similarly situated, would have been serving time in jail for defending himself and protecting his wife.

Stand Your Ground is not perfect, but I believe we would be better served by a conversation that includes keeping the parts of Stand Your Ground that work and overhauling the parts that do not work.

peachpundit (@peachpundit) September 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

New post: Stand Your Ground – An Alternative to Complete Repeal http://t.co/trpkAm4Yhn #gapol

pettifogger September 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

That is actually a sensible argument that starts with an absurd premise. I almost stopped reading at “The murder of Trayvon Martin.”

Some good points. Just kind of bizarre to hear someone talk about the best way to pursue justice when ignoring the findings of our criminal justice system at the outset (without justification provided).

Chris Huttman September 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Trayvon is dead. Zimmerman was not found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” which is the standard in this country, but I also cannot in good faith say that he did not murder him “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In other words – he’s in the gray area, but we don’t put people in jail who end up in that area. I would argue that a lot of the gray area can be attributed to the lack of urgency in the initial investigation – a lack of urgency that was sadly made worse by the local police/prosecutors interpretation of stand your ground.

Just out of curiosity – would you consider an article that’s premise starts with “OJ murdered Nicole” to be so absurd you wouldn’t read it?

pettifogger September 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Well OJ did murder Nicole, of course. We can suspend reason for the sake of analogies, but I don’t see the point. Moreover, I continued reading the article, and indicated that I was somewhat glad that I did.

THE WEEDS:
I think the lack of urgency was for good cause, the subsequent political prosecution despite weak evidence is where the State found itself in trouble. I can’t say for certain Zimmerman didn’t murder Martin, but he’s not in the gray area anymore than anyone else who are not convicted of crimes. I don’t think an honest person can assess murder trials of the last couple of decades and rank the Zimmerman fact pattern among the most egregious acquittals (unlike the OJ Simpson trial).

All that aside, I do think it matters quite a bit where are elected officials are coming from when they propose changes to law. In this case, you have an individual purporting to be some sort of legal authority asking us to listen to her with regard to her plans to make our laws more just. However, she starts with a premise that discounts the finding of our criminal justice system. She doesn’t simply question it, she affirmatively states that the opposite of the finding occurred.

One can, and perhaps should, think about such questionable editorial choices when considering the intent of legislative changes. As I stated, I think she makes a relatively strong appeal to those convinced that repeal of SYG laws are needed (read: not the majority of Georgians), but if the Martin narrative is part of the discussion she wishes to have, especially if she begins with conclusions that are entirely unsupported, I predict this won’t go far with anyone else.

griftdrift September 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm

It is sad that this is about to get into the weeds over a questionable editorial choice.

drjay September 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm

what seems a shame or maybe it isn’t, i don’t know–is that we even need stand your ground laws at all or the castle doctrine or whatever–whatever happened to good old self defense, why can’t the da’s and sheriffs have some discretion over charging people at all–if someone breaks into my home and i shoot them, why can’t the da just decline to charge me since it was self defense…i thought that used to be a thing even before all this stand your ground stuff…

drjay September 24, 2013 at 3:02 pm

i am thankfully not a lawyer, so my question may seem simple or stupid, but there it is either way…

myga62 September 25, 2013 at 2:50 am

Technically police can and often do simply make an on the scene decision, but most dont want to be wrong and rely on the justice system to work out what they cant. The Castle doctrine IS good ole self defense. What happens in your home is sometimes different than what happens other places when it comes to SYG.

drjay September 25, 2013 at 10:12 am

wow, thank you for being willing to come here and answer questions directly.

Doug Deal September 25, 2013 at 5:53 pm

drjay,

One good reason is that a non-zero number of DA’s are weak, corrupt, politically motivated or otherwise incapable of making a decision in the interest of justice. My wife is a prosecutor and the amount of political pressure brought to bear on her boss can be enormous. The stand-your-ground principle PREVENTS the attempt of prosecution for the homicide (generic term for man killing man) under special and very limited circumstances.

At no point did Zimmerman claim stand your ground and in fact it would not have applied. All of that nonsense was the conjecture of the press who misinterpret standard affirmative self-defense in common law (no requirement to retreat if acting lawfully) with the Castle Doctrine which gives immunity from prosecution as an entitlement and which Zimmerman waived.

seekingtounderstand September 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm

With Atlanta Police past history of busting in and shooting innocent old women in their homes, perhaps you could work on laws that protect innocent people. A new book on the militarization of our Police, gave facts that Atlanta never solved this problem they just fired a few police officers that got caught.
The police are under pressure to receive federal grant money and have quotas to met.
Stand your ground incidents just do not happen that often as compared to abuse of a police force under the wrong kind of incentive programs.

pettifogger September 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I think SYG incidents happen far more frequently than erroneous no knocks or similar incidents resulting in death, but I don’t have the statistics for that. I do agree that such police actions are disturbing and worth attention. One can be both largely supportive of law enforcement and disturbed by these incidents, which is something both sides (fervently pro-police and anti-police) have an interest in denying in order to press people into their ideological camps.

radix023 September 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

My reading comprehension must be down this afternoon. What exactly is wrong with GA’s Stand Your Ground law? I saw examples put forward of why it is good and necessary but what exactly is the problem that needs remedying? The Trayvon reference is a non-sequitor as the defense did not rely upon FL’s Stand Your Ground law (although you couldn’t tell that from the truly awful media coverage).

pettifogger September 24, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I think she may have been implying the same (that SYG wasn’t relevant), but it is difficult to tell from the opening.

Dave Bearse September 24, 2013 at 11:01 pm

The case went to a jury, not SCOTUS, and jury members specifically mentioned SYG when commenting on deliberations whether the defense relied on it or not. Non-sequitur, strictly speaking, doesn’t apply.

myga62 September 25, 2013 at 2:56 am

The problems are that the terms and standards are not clear and are inconsistently applied. We need to define terms such as aggressor, retreat, imminent danger and more such that everyone knows what actions are acceptable and which are not. Other proposals include making it unjustifiable for a person who leaves a place of safety to confront someone and then an incident ensues where SYG is used. More importantly, any changes should include frank conversations about what standards we proclaim to have and which ones are more commonly practiced in our society.

radix023 September 25, 2013 at 11:05 am

Thanks for taking the time to give an informative reply. Clarity in the law I of course support (if ignorance of the law is no excuse, lawmakers have a duty to make laws clear).

WRT limiting SYG defense when the confrontation is voluntary I’d have to see language, as we all know, the devil is in the details. You want to ensure you maintain the clarity you seek in the terminology so that does not become a loophole that swallows the rule.

seekingtounderstand September 25, 2013 at 11:21 am

Democrats want laws that control people, we want laws that protect us……………..
Laws do not stop bad things from happening.

benevolus September 25, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Laws do not stop all bad things from happening. Laws do stop a lot of bad things from happening.

seekingtounderstand September 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Rep. Jones: Just wondering how many of your voters are demanding this change in the law or are you just using this subject for political reasons? A political attention getter for upcoming elections? Who would support vs. who would not?

benevolus September 24, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Jeez. Cynical much?

myga62 September 25, 2013 at 2:47 am

Thanks seek. Not a political stunt, although someone suggested I save my passion for use during the next election. I refused. Although I have district voters, my votes touch every Georgian. In light of the multiple rallies, meetings, and events on SYG (as recently as last week) I felt it important that I put out an alternative view point. I cannot sit passively by knowing I have experience in this area that most other citizens or legislators have. I was willing to bear the heat of the various progressives to ensure we dont create unintended consequences because we are moved by emotion rather than fact.

seekingtounderstand September 25, 2013 at 11:24 am

U and other democrats across the nation are using this as a step toward total gun control.
U want to take the ability of a jury of our peers to make a decision.
Like how hate crimes work today is your goal.

gcp September 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

2014 legislature should needs to look at expanding gun carry laws rather than rehashing “stand your ground.”

Michael Silver September 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

With all due respect, the SYG concept wasn’t driven by racism. In fact, it was English Common Law that was in effect since the founding of our state. The 2006 bill just formalized it into law after un-elected Judges started making moves to change it to a person having a duty to retreat.

Anyone who advocates “a duty to retreat” is evil. There is no middle moral ground. A duty to retreat means that a woman is better raped than rapist being shot and killed. It means that good people have to yield to criminals. EVIL

If Rep. Jones is concerned about laws driven by racism, she just has to look at Georgia’s carry laws. Their racist history and INTENT is well documented.

benevolus September 24, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Just because there is a historical precedent does not mean some current implementations don’t have a racial aspect.

Interesting that you focused on that one statement however. I think the gist of the whole thing is that we need to talk about this in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys”, not races, but that is exactly what you have chosen to do.

Could be a learning moment.

Harry September 25, 2013 at 12:09 am

Just eliminate the most restrictive carry laws, and then there will be no need for you to pull the race card.

Dave Bearse September 24, 2013 at 11:04 pm

A duty to retreat does not means that a woman is better raped than rapist being shot and killed.

“It means that good people have to yield to criminals. EVIL” Who knew Jesus Christ was evil?

Harry September 25, 2013 at 12:10 am

Who knew we live in an imperfect world.

pettifogger September 25, 2013 at 9:34 am

Duty to retreat is highly problematic. That said, as an active second amendment supporter, I have no interest in taking a life over “things” or simply because I have a legal right to use deadly force. I think it is fair for the State Representative to say we should discuss such things (the moral realities), but I think legislating down to the level of moral realities is dangerous. While I’d let an idiot take most of my stuff before getting into an armed confrontation, assuming there was truly little threat of severe bodily harm, I don’t want to legislate tightly to our values, leaving little legal room for contingencies.

The problem is that I don’t trust a stupid kid with a gun to accomplish his poorly-thought out plan without injuring or killing my family or myself. If you point a gun at someone, or brandish a knife, etc. in the act of a crime, you’re putting your right to life up in the air. I don’t know if you’ll get spooked and make a bad decision, or if your lack of trigger discipline is going to result in a negligent shot. Duty of retreat, in such situations, is empowering to the aggressor, even if those laws would not preclude a finding of self-defense if the victim used deadly force. If I had more faith in judges and juries, perhaps laws permitting the second guessing of a self-defense shooting wouldn’t be so problematic.

Noway September 25, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Duty to retreat is pure crap. It’s the duty of the dirtbag to retreat before I shoot his a&&! SYG is human pest control!

The Last Democrat in Georgia September 25, 2013 at 4:02 pm

+1 zillion

Rick Day September 25, 2013 at 9:50 am

Rep Brown. Plz describe what your Christian hat look like. Is it pious pink or self-righteous red?

I don’t care what your religion is. In fact, when you mention the phrase “As a Christian…” you lose all credibility with me as assuming you were a rational thinking human.

Now see what happens? I lost all track of your political point because I can’t get off this silly fantasy of you wearing a blood red miter.

Stop. It. This. Is. Politics.

Doug Deal September 25, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Words have meanings including the word “murder” which I encourage you to look up. You, sir, are reprehensible and irresponsible.

Stacey Hopkins September 25, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I think that perhaps we might first want to ask ourselves why this law was needed to be incorporated into our criminal code to begin with. Why the sudden rash of laws that we saw passed nationally beginning in 2005 (and here in Georgia in 2006) originating from the ALEC-crafted Castle Doctrine legislation that formed the basis of these state laws even necessary? Was there an epidemic of crimes that necessitated taking such action that wasn’t already codified in legal statute and upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court since the late 1800’s? What was so broken about the law that has stood for over a century where it needed a ‘fix’ and from an entity such ALEC? Were the people demanding this or was there a specific need being addressed? I’d think that should be the basic for the construction and passage of any type of legislation; I’m having a difficult time seeing the necessity for the law in the first place.

peachstealth September 25, 2013 at 9:56 pm

If you had just started your piece with “The killing of Travon Martin” Rather than with “The murder of Travon Martin” you would have had a lot more credibility.
As a lawyer, I’m sure you know the difference.

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