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Misunderstood “Ground”: “Standing Your Ground”

With the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the US Attorney General questioned the appropriateness of the “stand your ground” doctrine. This is not a general federal matter, except if a use of deadly force is so egregious it violates federal civil rights laws.

This is a question for the states’ attorneys’ general and other state and federal elected and appointed officials. What is your state attorney general’s legal position, whether an express or implied part of your state’s law? This blog post explores what the stand-your-ground doctrine means—it reflects the state’s collective values in which it is adopted.

This noted, the stand-your-ground concept is inextricably linked with the retreat/no-retreat doctrine. (George E. Dix, “Justification: Self-Defense,” I 3 Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice 946, 948-49 (Stanford H. Kadish ed., 1983). In other words, where stand-your-ground is law, a person may not have to retreat, in certain situations, such as if faced with serious bodily injury or death or to defend a home, again as allowed, and stand his or her ground, exercising deadly force.

However, in most every state that sanctions this legal concept (i.e., stand your ground and no-retreat), there is a “requirement” that the use of deadly force nevertheless be reasonable. (for example, Indiana Code 35-41-3-2) The ultimate arbitrator of this is a judge or jury. And neither is likely to be ham-strung by an illicit use of force in light of that state’s penal values.

In other words, in states where there is stand-your-ground, it is a reflection of how that community views a criminal act and a split-second decision caused to be made by the would-be victim as it relates to the felon in action. In states where the line is closer to favoring preserving the criminal’s life on par with getting-it-right in all cases where a person lawfully possesses and uses a firearm, as somewhat of an assumed risk associated with this right, standing your ground is less likely to be a actual or de facto defense.

Ultimately, therefore, standing your ground is a concept that broadly reflects community values. Any other view is to misunderstand the legal concept, agreeing with it or not. It is not an invitation to take a life. Indeed, even in states with the strongest view of standing your ground and no-retreat, a use of deadly force is likely to be accompanied by a criminal prosecution and risk of imprisonment, minimally an expensive civil suit.

The purpose of this blog post is to help you independently evaluate statements about “standing-your-ground” and its companion doctrine of “no-retreat”. If this blog post has helped in this way, no matter your position, it has met is objective of making an informed contribution to following or changing the law in your state.

This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. Bryan Ciyou practices in Indiana is consults and lectures on gun topics across the United States. Ciyou & Dixon attorneys practice throughout the State of Indiana.

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