Podcast on “Stand Your Ground” laws

by Walter Olson on April 6, 2012


In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, I correct some of the flagrant misconceptions that keep circulating about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, and in particular discuss why the law makes no difference at all (under current evidence) in assessing George Zimmerman’s legal guilt or innocence in the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Earlier/background here. And Eugene Volokh has a great post here on the nature of the supposed “duty to retreat,” which I mention in the podcast, with more here.

{ 7 comments }

1 William Nuesslein 04.07.12 at 1:40 pm

Good work, Mr. Olson.

Are you bothered by the presumption of a lack of integrity of the police and prosecuting authority? Why would they condone the willy-nilly shooting of a young man walking down a sidewalk?

It reminds me of the charge that the Los Angeles Police Department saw the killing of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman as an oportunity to engage in a massive frame-up of OJ Simpson.

2 Hugo S. Cunningham 04.07.12 at 7:51 pm

I am deeply bothered by a prosecuting authority whose sloppiness and laziness brought “Stand your ground” laws under intense national political attack. If Zimmerman ultimately deserves acquittal, it won’t be because of SYG.

3 William Nuesslein 04.08.12 at 6:00 am

T.S Elliot wrote” “The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason”

I take Mr. Cunningham’s word that the prosecuting authority based his opinion on SYG. The question in the case is who brought potentially fatal violence into the event. If the young man jumped Mr. Zimmerman and pounded his head against the sidewalk, then Mr. Zimmerman’s action would be justifiable. The seething rage in the Black community against racial profiling might have generated an attack on Zimmerman.

4 wfjag 04.09.12 at 9:17 am

Although in Mr. Zimmerman’s case SYG may be irrelevant, it was central to Mrs. Janice Hasch being exonerated. Her conviction for reckless homicide of her husband was reversed because Kentucky’s SYG law (which appears to follow the same standard’s as Florida’s) was held to impose no duty to retreat on the victim. See Hasch v. Commonwealth, 2010 WL 2629510 (Ky. App. July 2, 2010).

Given that Mrs. Hasch’s defense rested on her fear due to several years of domestic abuse, one would think that feminist organzations would have rallied to her. The didn’t, so it is unlikely you’ve heard of her before this.

I do not know the facts about Mr. Zimmerman’s case. And, given the misreporting and hype in the media, I question whether the facts will ever come out and be fairly reported. Still, when discussing SYG laws, it should be noted that there are cases in which victims have been protected by them.

5 Hugo S. Cunningham 04.09.12 at 4:24 pm

It is possible that the MSM account I read in the first day or two after the story went national erroneously added SYG to the DA’s stated reason for not prosecuting. Some MSM have been a bit casual about other facts.

6 Walter Olson 04.09.12 at 4:34 pm

The DA did cite the SYG statute, not the substantive portions of it that affect a determination of GZ’s guilt, but a different part of it that spells out at what threshold of probable cause an arrest can be made. There is some uncertainty as to whether this portion of the SYG law actually puts defendants in any better position on escaping arrest, or merely codifies what courts had already articulated as the standard. Eugene Volokh and David Kopel have written on this point.

7 Amit 04.11.12 at 12:29 am

I can’t disagree with the legal analysis for the SYG law. It clearly doesn’t apply. However I would suggest that maybe its time we look at the bigger picture of how we see self-defense in America. The biggest problems with self-defense laws in this country is that like Mr. Olson explained they kick in at the last minute where the violence was imminent and exclude any discussion of the defendant’s actions that may have lead to the violent situation to be created in the first place. I think there should be a strong presumption against self-defense when the defendant had plenty of chances to avoid the confrontation. Mr. Zimmerman claims that he was attacked when he was trying to retreat and there are no eye-witnesses that clearly saw what was happening for the entire period of time. At the same time there is recorded conversation with the 911 dispatcher that clearly shows that Mr. Zimmerman was told to not pursue on foot but to wait for the police to arrive. He also says something to the effect, “They always get away with it” Which could show per-meditation to commit violence against Mr. Martin. The police bungled the case by bringing in the SYG law into the picture. They should have arrested Mr. Zimmerman and the prosecutors should have tried to put the case in front of a Jury. Without eyewitnesses and a plausible self-defense claim I think Mr. Zimmerman would still probably walk but it would have been due to a lack of evidence and not because some police department and prosecutor’s interpretation of SYG without the case ever getting in front of a Jury. Either way the circumstances of this case are horrendous.

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