On Feb. 26, 28-year-old George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year old Trayvon Martin on the sidewalk of Zimmerman’s Florida neighborhood in what he claims was self-defense – Zimmerman has not been charged, but the case is now being investigated by the Dept. of Justice.
While the events surrounding this shooting remain cloudy, they have raised many questions about our self-defense rights. Do we have the right to fight? Or must we attempt to flee first?
The basic legal premise of the “Castle Doctrine” is there is no “Duty to Retreat” from a bad guy. Duty to retreat means if an intruder enters your home, you may not have a legal defense for protecting yourself with deadly force, unless you first attempted to retreat. This concept makes my head hurt for a number of reasons. It is possible that someone could not only be criminally prosecuted for protecting home and family, but could actually be sued by the intruder or the intruder’s family (if you were a decent shot). This concept, while absurd, is at the very left end of the self-defense law spectrum.
The laws in Florida and Indiana are at the other end. Our state has a much stronger interpretation of the “Castle Doctrine” called “Stand Your Ground.” This notion, also called “No Duty to Retreat,” allows for the use of deadly force by a person who has a legal right to be there – and no duty is imposed to attempt to “get away” first.
These self-defense laws are based on a “reasonableness” test. It is reasonable for you, for example, to defend yourself from an attacker – it is not reasonable to shoot him in the back as he is running away. At the end of the 911 tape, Zimmerman tells police Martin is running away. Without evidence indicating Martin doubled back for a confrontation, Zimmerman may not pass this test.