Stand Your Ground

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Stand Your Ground.  Today’s blog post is a guest submission from retired lawyer Noah Kovacs.  Since retiring from law, Noah Kovacs has enjoyed himself blogging about small business law, legal marketing, and anything else legal, criminal or civil. He recently purchased his first cabin and spends his free time remodeling its kitchen for his family. Twitter: @NoahKovacs

Will the Well-Publicized Tragedies Affect the Stand Your Ground Laws?

Perhaps you’ve heard some of the “Stand Your Ground” law horror stories. Unfortunately, for both proponents and detractors of Stand Your Ground, there are a lot of them. Two of the more infamous ones have gotten a good deal of publicity:

Marissa Alexander is a 32 year old mother of three children with a master’s degree and no criminal record. When her abusive, estranged husband stormed into her house, after threatening her with violence on the phone (he admits as much), she fired a single warning shot to scare him off. Alexander had a restraining order against her husband, which he was violating, and he admitted that he was in a rage and probably would have attacked her. Marissa Alexander even cited Stand Your Ground as a defense. Her defense was disregarded, however, and the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon was upheld. Because a gun was used there was an immediate 20 year enhancement applied to her sentence. As such, Marissa Alexander, a black woman, got two decades in prison for a warning shot.

Ralph Wald shot a man named Walter Conley three times in the back and head. Conley was having sex with Wald’s wife, Johnna Flores. Conley was Flores’s lover and had been for some time- they were roommates before she married Wald, he had her name tattooed on his neck and back and was one of Flores’s employees. According to a number of people who knew the couple, Wald, a 70 year old man with erectile dysfunction, knew that Conley and Flores were lovers, the two having made no attempt to hide it. The near-unanimous theory was that Ward’s jealousy had finally gotten the better of him.

Ward called 911 and told them that Conley was raping his wife, claiming initially that he didn’t recognize Conley. Although his fear for her safety is questionable considering that he shot Conley with little or no regard for his wife’s safety and initially told the 911 dispatchers that he had shot her too. When the dispatcher asked if Conley was dead Wald (having supposedly since recognized Conley) said, “I hope so!” and refused to offer any medical care to the dying man. Ward never once used the word “rape” when talking the police, using the term “fornicate” instead- a word that describes a decidedly consensual act. Ward was acquitted based on Stand Your Ground.

While proponents of the Stand Your Ground laws may cite these as outliers of an otherwise effective system, as mentioned earlier, there are any number of these stories from virtually every state with the laws. And in a disturbing plurality of these cases, black and Hispanic Americans seem both far more likely to be killed and less likely to be acquitted when they use Stand Your Ground as a defense.

As troubling as those cases and their racial makeup seem, perhaps an argument could be made that they are a necessary evil if the comprehensive result of Stand Your Ground laws was a decrease in homicides and/or violent crime. Unfortunately, scientific and statistical studies done on the subject not only have the states with Stand Your Ground not seen any decrease in violent crime, they’ve seen an upswing in homicides. What’s more, the laws don’t seem particularly necessary. There are laws in place to protect those that commit “justifiable homicide”. Proponents of Stand Your Ground cite instances in which those that killed in self-defense languished in jails for three or four months before being clearer.

However, the fact is- that still happens- even in states with Stand Your Ground. Marissa Alexander can attest to that and she never even killed anyone. Perhaps it comes down to a fundamental societal question- is human life worth enough that occasionally when someone takes a life, even in self-defense, they should have to face some kind of transient confinement until that death is determined to be justified or not by our legal system? Is that price too high to pay for the lives that have been lost and ruined by Stand Your Ground laws?

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