July 2015 Bar Bulletin
Stand-Your-Ground Laws and Defense of One's Home
By Conner Spani
Our legal system gives tremendous police power to the state, balanced by requirements for due process. If it works as intended, this system provides equitable criminal justice outcomes.
Without police power, our states would be running rampant with mob justice. The acquiescence of police power includes prohibiting vigilantism and street justice. Stand your ground ("SYG") laws may be undermining that balance.
Washington and Florida SYG Similarity
One hugely controversial and notorious SYG case is State of Florida v. George Zimmerman, which involved the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, an African American teenager, by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator who was not acting as a neighborhood watch coordinator at the time of the shooting. Zimmerman didn't actually use the SYG defense, instead using the regular self-defense statute.1 However, the lines were blurred because SYG language was used in the jury instructions, which made the Florida SYG and self-defense laws effectively indistinguishable in Zimmerman.2
Washington's SYG laws are effectively the same as the Florida self-defense/SYG law that resulted in Zimmerman's ultimate acquittal.3 The following is a key excerpt from the jury instructions used in Zimmerman's trial (note the SYG language):
If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.4
Let's compare that instruction to Washington's justifiable homicide/SYG law:
Homicide is justifiable when committed either:
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