There has been a lot of talk in the past week or so about self-defense and the law. I’m sure that many of you are aware of the situation in Florida where Martin was killed by a C.O.P. named Zimmerman. You know that this is not a current events show, however, there are times when current events need to motivate us to learn more about a set of circumstances. In this case we need to understand the legal burdens that are upon us when we realize that our lives are worth defending.
I am not an attorney. Not in the state of Ohio, your state, or any other state. I never went to law school. I did have a lunch of fish and chips and beer with a lawyer once. My point is that you need to seek legal experts to help you understand self-defense and the law. You need to read the law, you need to get an attorney that can help you to interpret the law that you read. You need to join the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. You need to do all of this before you find yourself in a self-defense situation.
Lesson: 1 Ignore the media, they don’t know what they are talking about.
Understanding Legal Terms:
It is imperative to understand the meaning of the words that are so often throw around when it comes to self defense and the law. The important part is UNDERSTAND. We must know what they mean in the context that they will be applied by a court of law when we use force to defend ourselves.
In general, the media doesn’t understand and those that do aren’t very interested in helping you, or the general public understand. They are interested in ratings. We are going to chase our tails here for a bit, but stick with me. I will get back to the jack wad media and we will talk about a lot of important stuff along the way.
Lets look at two terms that are being throw around in reference to the situation in Sanford, Florida.
(4) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
(5) As used in this section, the term:
Stand Your Ground
(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.
Stand Your Ground Laws are now on the books in more than 20 US States and just like the Castle Doctrine the law makes the affirmative defense of self-defense situations more strtaight forward. I have heard Stand Your Ground laws refered to as castle doctrine laws extended to wherever you are lawfully engaged. I do not agree with this interpretation. Castle Doctrine establishes intent while Stand Your Ground eliminates Preclusion. Get ready, here comes more legalese!
What Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground Laws Do For You
Before we can go in depth into how these laws help those who lawfully defend themselves we must look at some more concepts and terms.
Criminal legal System: Innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is on the PROSECUTOR to show that someone is guilty of a crime.
In self-defense, we admit that we committed the crime and offer up a legitimate reason for why the commission of a crime was acceptable. WE (the DEFENSE) must prove why it was O.K. to commit the crime.
In general we must prove 4 things to prove that we should be excused for killing another person when we claim self-defense:
- Ability – Deals with the capacity to injure. The person we defended ourselves had the real physical ability to hurt us. To justify lethal force that ability must include the capacity to cause great bodily harm or death. A person with a knife, gun, bat, or other implement that can be used as a weapon certainly has the physical capacity to cause serious harm.
- Opportunity – Deals with time and distance. The threat must be immediate. A dirt bag with a knife 5 feet away has the opportunity to harm us but if we insert a 12′ fence topped with razor wire between us, the threat is no longer immediate. Switch the knife for a handgun and the threat is again immediate.
- Intent (Jeopardy) – Deals with intentions to cause harm. Every day I interact with and am surrounded by hundreds of people who have the physical capacity (ability) and are within distances where they can immediately cause great bodily harm to me or my loved ones and I could easily cause harm to them. Lucky for them and for me, neither of us mean any harm. We lack intent. We can begin to try to understand intent by looking at body language, words, previous actions or patterns of behavior but we can’t read minds.
- Preclusion – Deals with exhausting all other options. Using lethal force can only be used as a tool of last resort. You must do anything and everything else that doesn’t put you at risk BEFORE self-defense is an option. Talk your way out of it, run away, etc. If there is a way to avoid lethal force without harming you, you have to give it a try.
Lesson 2: You need to know your laws BEFORE you find yourself in a self-defense situation.
When we think about training many folks focus on putting rounds in the x ring. I’m not even going to touch on what I think is so wrong about that concept.
People Focus on the sexy stuff. Guns, shooting, fighting skills. They are all important but we must remember that self-defense is a delicate balance. If we react improperly we could maintain our life yet sacrifice our freedom. I understand the concept that it is better to be judged than carried. Wouldn’t you agree that it is better to experience neither?
When we are faced with a lethal threat we will not be thinking about the law. Our bodies physiological response to violence will likely preclude this kind of higher level thinking. This is a good thing as it will allow us to focus on what we need to focus on, defending our lives.
This means that we need to do a couple of things:
- We need to understand the laws
- We need to integrate our understanding into our training
- We need to include legal considerations into our scenarios
Lesson 3: The Stand Your Ground law doesn’t mean you should.
Our first point showed that Stand Your Ground Laws lower the burden of an individuals affirmative defense. I firmly believe that its benefits end there.
Just because you can stand your ground doesn’t mean you should:
- The only way to avoid the consequences of violence is to avoid violence.
- If you can exit the situation, exit the situation.
- Avoid injury
- Avoid using lethal force
- Avoid criminal charges
- Avoid civil legal issues
- Avoid moral and ethical issues
- Self-defense is about need.
- Not about what the law allows you to do
- About what you need to do
Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman
These two are really the only ones who know all the details about what happened on Feb. 26. Stand Your Ground is in the books, it is a good law and it has nothing to do with whether Zimmerman did right or wrong from a legal standpoint. AOJ? That is the real question and the real take away might be that just because you don’t have to run doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t.