3 Self-Defense Laws That Could Be Even Worse Than Stand Your Ground

Written by Nicole Flatow

The acquittal of George Zimmerman has reignited the national conversation about so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws that authorize deadly force in self-defense anywhere a person has a legal right to be, without a duty to mitigate the harm by attempting retreat. The Trayvon Martin killing and many other fatal shootings are raising deeply troubling questions about what sort of civilian vigilantism, discrimination and arbitrary judgment is authorized by laws that put discretion into the hands of civilians.

But the notorious Stand Your Ground provision is one of several that give broad discretion to civilians to use inordinate force in self-defense. Below are three other force-empowering provisions that are just as, if not even more, expansive:

1. Texas: Deadly Force In Defense Of Personal Property

Stand Your Ground laws authorize deadly force not just when an individual has reasonable fear of death; but also for fear of great bodily harm or a “forcible felony.” In many states, these provisions are potentially authorizing disproportionate force in response to a fear of crimes as low-level as third-degree assault or robbery. But even these crimes involve injury to a person.

Texas is different. In Texas, one can use deadly force not just to protect a person, but also to protect personal property, including to “retrieve stolen property at night,” during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means. This law recently garnered attention when lawyers used the provision to defend a man acquitted in the deadly shooting of an escort who refused to have sex with him. In other cases, the law has been the basis for not pressing charges against individuals who shoot and kill suspected car burglars, and an individual suspected of stealing copper wiring from a car. It is worth noting that some other states authorize the use of force to protect personal property, but not deadly force.

2. Indiana: Right To Shoot The Police

Last year, Indiana became the first and only state to enact an NRA-backed law that specifically allows civilian force against law enforcement officers and other “public servants” when they are engaging in “unlawful activity.” The statute came in response to a court ruling that held the exact opposite – that individuals could not use deadly force to protect against a police intrusion, even if they questioned the legality of the intrusion.

The law authorizes “reasonable force” against any unlawful entry or trespass by police, and even deadly force to prevent serious bodily injury and what the shooter deems unlawful activity. While the allowance for deadly force is narrow, police have expressed serious concern that an occupant of a home confronting a police break-in will not be able to properly assess, in the heat of the moment, whether or not the officer entered the home pursuant to a lawful warrant or other public safety exception authorized by the U.S. Constitution, and whether that officer poses a legitimate danger.

3. Majority Of States: The Expanded Castle Doctrine

Stand Your Ground laws and other expanded self-defense provisions all derived from the old English common law concept that individuals have a right to defend their homes. The original “Castle Doctrine” gave individuals a right to protect their home against intruders, even if that meant using deadly force. Because they were protecting their home, courts carved out an exception to the general rule that individuals protecting themselves must first attempt to mitigate the harm, or “retreat,” so that an individual would not be forced to retreat from their own home.

Stand Your Ground laws that expand that “no duty to retreat” concept to anywhere an individual has a right to be have been described as an expansion of the Castle Doctrine. But they are not the only expansion passed in countless states. Many states have also incorporated into their laws similar authority to use deadly force in protection of their “occupied vehicles” or offices, and have expanded the conception of the home to include not just the house but the curtilage – a legal term for the property surrounding the house. While Stand Your Ground laws confer the right to use deadly force to protect against a forcible felony anywhere someone has a right to be, individuals can use deadly force against much less when one is defending their home, vehicle, or office. In a number of states, the law presumes a reasonable fear of imminent peril or death if an individual is unlawfully entering an occupant’s home, car, or office. The expanded Castle Doctrine has been used to justify a shooting against a burglary of a neighbor’s home, and the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old who walked onto a neighbor’s porch to escape a potential police bust of underaged drinking. And just this week, a Virginia woman shot at a car that used her driveway to turn around on the highway — an intrusion she argues is an unlawful entry onto her property.

This post was originally published at ThinkProgress.

Photo from Thinkstock

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Henry M.
Henry M.16 days ago

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Cassandra C.20 days ago

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Pamela W.
Pamela W.2 years ago

Del R ......... 8:31AM PDT on Aug 5, 2013

"Kevin B and Robert H.. Bottom line is which is more plausible."

NO - Del - the bottom line is the TRUTH ...... and it will come out eventually !!!

" This is my last post on this thread ............"

Is that a promise Del ? I do hope you're more trustworthy than GZ !!!!!!!
As it seems you might have some time on your hands (no longer posting on this thread) maybe you'd like to read some coverage of what GZ has had to say SINCE the case ?? ....


There are several articles like this - just Google in key words "Zimmerman God" ......

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

"That is an excellent insult..." Wow that was a Freudian slip, I meant "That is an excellent insight..." Sorry!

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Robert - That is an excellent insult into the working minds of many on the right. They need the uncomplicated "black and white" way of looking at the world. Of course the world is NOT black and white, it is often grey and very complicated.

But they don't like to do complicated, which makes them prey for the hucksters, the demagogues, the charlatans, and the tricksters who use and manipulate them.

I mean look at the tea-party, have you ever seen a group of people so duped by the rich? The are a controlled astro-turf group and they do not even know it. They are doing the bidding of people like the Koch brothers and do not even realize that they are being used and bamboozled. But its black and white, so they are happy being the shills for the rich and the corporations.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Its typical of the right Kevin. They like their workd to be simple and uncomplicated. Zimmerman was innocent of one thing so of course HE is good and Trayvon MUST be bad. Orielly has said this many times. The world is far more black and white than Liberals accept. And of course Orielly is dead wrong as he normally is.

I have doubts and he doesnt like doubts. He wants things all tied up in a neat lil package. Nothing about this case is tied up yet and I wont be surprised if there are other lawsuits. It will also be interesting to see how long Zimmerman can stay out of trouble.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Robert H. You might notice that Del has reverted to "pigeon chess." They all do sooner or later.

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

I dodnt care who the juroros were they did their job Del.

That does NOT mean Zimmerman was guiltless in this situation. We still dont REALLY know who the original agressor REALLY was becasue no eye witnesses saw it and all we have to go on is Zimmermna's words. Which are suspect at the very least. I have doubts. You dodnt Move along

Robert H.
Robert Hamm2 years ago

I already accepted the facts and the verdict. Long ago. That does NOT mean Zimmerman is innocent of all wrong doing. It does NOT mean Zimmerman wasnt the aggressor. A boy is DEAD that didnt need to be dead. I am not fabricating a damned thing. I am casting doubts that you simply dont wish to approach. There is far too much NO KNOWN that keeps me from thinking Zimmerman was a hero or even innocent of all wrong doing. I dodnt listen to race baiters anymore than I listen to close minded simpletons like yourself.

There ARE racial tensions in this country. There always have been. Deal with it. Just becasue you refuse to admit there IS racial tension doesnt mean there isnt.

I am glad this is your last post. I am sick of you trying to turn Zimmerman into a hero. he isnt a hero. He is an idiot wannabe flunk out cop who's anticss ened up with a boy dead.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Del R. said " Race baiters are people who bring race into the equation of this tragedy when race was never a driving factor of this case."

If you think race had nothing to do with this case you are just insane.