What is your primary law and which states have one?

  • By Brandon Drennan
  • BBC News, Washington

Image caption,

Ralph Jarl survived after approaching the wrong house in Missouri

Two recent cases of unarmed people being shot and killed in the US have renewed the debate over so-called “stand your ground” laws.

The shooting has raised questions about a person’s right to defend themselves and their property in the U.S. — and when a person can use deadly force in self-defense.

The answer depends on where you live.

What is your ground law?

Basic law is enacted at the state level, and most allow a person to defend himself by using reasonable force, including deadly force, to prevent death or serious bodily injury.

Stand your ground laws reflect the common law “castle doctrine” principle, which does not include a “duty to retreat” when a person feels they must defend their home.

The duty to retreat has been removed under most stand your ground laws, called by critics “shoot first” laws.

The laws began appearing in states after Florida introduced a bill in 2005 that included the “has the right to assert its position” language.

When defendants use the stand to defend their actions, the case often centers on whether or not their use of force meets the standard of “reasonable” given the perceived threat.

How many states are your primary laws in effect?

States include: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia Wyoming.

In these countries, there is no obligation to retreat from an attacker.

In Missouri, a person is not required to withdraw from his personal property. An 84-year-old man has been charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the shooting of Ralph Jarl.

Eight other states — California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, Vermont and Washington — allow the use of deadly force in self-defense.

New York state, where Ms. Gillis was shot when the car she was in pulled into the wrong lane, has no protection law and imposes a broad duty to retreat.

But its state law also introduces the castle doctrine in certain circumstances. A man has been charged with second-degree murder over Ms Gillis’ death.

Deadly force is defined as the amount of force that a reasonable person would consider likely to cause death or serious bodily injury to another person, according to Cornell University.

The impact of stand your ground laws

John Roman, who has studied 53,019 cases involving stand your ground laws published by the US Department of Justice, said they “encourage violence”.

“People feel they have that extra protection that makes them more likely to shoot where they wouldn’t shoot without that perceived protection,” he said.

It also “tragically” widens racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system, he said.

Data from the report shows that when the shooter is white and the victim is black, the white shooter’s actions are 10 times more likely to be justified than when the shooter is black and the victim is white.

The study found that in cases where the law was involved, 11.4 percent of white-on-black homicides were ruled justified, compared to just 1.2 percent of black-on-white homicides.

Well-known cases stand on the ground

In 2012, Florida neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was unarmed.

Lawyers for Mr. Zimmerman, 29, cited the laws and said Mr. Zimmerman acted in self-defense with a justified use of deadly force. He was acquitted of all charges.

The case sparked a fierce debate about racial profiling in the US, and spontaneous protest marches were organized overnight in cities such as San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington and Atlanta.

Defendants’ use of the law is not always successful.

Ahmaud Arbury, a 25-year-old black man, was fatally shot by three white men as he ran unarmed through a Georgia neighborhood, the men tried to justify their actions by citing stand your ground laws.

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