Shooting a stranger on your porch is still a crime: The Stand Your Ground bogeyman

Last Saturday morning, Renisha McBride, a black woman, got into an accident in a very white neighborhood. At around 2:30am, she knocked on a man’s door to ask for help since her cell phone battery was dead. Upon receiving no answer, she turned to walk away at which point she was shot in the back of the head.

Absurd, grotesque, horrifying, infuriating and enraging, all of it.

Stand your ground? Not so much.

Stand your ground, as it is commonly referred to in our lexicon, implies that the user of the phrase is invoking a situation where an initial aggressor doesn’t have a duty to de-escalate or walk away from the situation and, instead, is permitted to use deadly force.

It’s all hogwash. Stand your ground laws (which I do not like)1, empower citizens engaged in lawful activity outside of the home to repel deadly force with deadly force2. It does remove the duty to retreat in a public place, but only in certain circumstances.

Stand your ground laws do not apply to a person inside his own home. Almost every state in the country has no requirement that a person try and “retreat” inside his own home or to another location when attacked in that safe place.3

What the law doesn’t allow, of course, is a license to shoot and kill, without legal consequence, a person who happens to be knocking on your door or standing on your porch or even – in some circumstances – entering your home.

We call that murder4.

Your home is not an independent foreign country and every visitor an enemy incursion that you must repel with ballistic force. This is not Petoria.

Whatever this individual did will per force have to be viewed in a subjective and objective lens. What did he perceive and was that perception rational?

It seems to me, without knowing anything about anything5 that a man shot a woman for no reason. In most states, it is either murder or manslaughter.

What it most certainly is not, is a free pass under Stand Your Ground laws.

But don’t ask me, I’m just a lawyer.

  1. And see Texas, where you know, Texas.
  2. I also don’t like guns, but I like logic more.
  3. It does get more complicated after that, though, with deadly force being allowed to repel imminent deadly force in some states and not others, and defense of third persons and property and so on.
  4. Or manslaughter, but, you know.
  5. A disclaimer you will be hard-pressed to find in most media coverage about this case.

7 thoughts on “Shooting a stranger on your porch is still a crime: The Stand Your Ground bogeyman

  1. shoirca

    Massachusetts model jury instructions requires retreat within the home if safe to do so:

    The Commonwealth may prove that the defendant did not
    act in self-defense in a dwelling by proving beyond a reasonable doubt:….

    that the defendant resorted to force without using
    avenues of escape that were reasonably available and which
    would not have exposed the defendant to further danger

  2. Daniel

    I am ordinarily very pro-defendant, but I think stand your ground laws are a good thing. Stand your ground laws don’t permit anyone to murder either. Stand your ground laws don’t mean that you can be the initial aggressor and do anything you like when the victim responds to your aggression. The initial aggressor can only lawfully defend against *unwarranted* aggression directed back at the aggressor. For example, if I poke my finger in your chest, you can’t shoot me, but if you pull out a gun, then I have has a right to defend myself, no matter the location of the incident.

    Further, we don’t know if George Zimmerman did anything to warrant Trayvon Martin’s reaction or whether Martin over-reacted. Zimmerman could have been the aggressor, but as a defense attorney, you should be the first know, evidence is required for a conviction.

    On the other hand, without stand your ground laws, maybe it should have been Martin who should have run and tried to hide or get away from Martin. We just don’t know.

  3. shg

    Earlier today, Joe Patrice at ATL posted this story with the headline, Another Black Teenager Shot Dead — Is ‘Stand Your Ground’ To Blame?

    It was wrong. In the body of the story, he answered his question that it wasn’t a stand your ground case, but we’re lawyers. Even Patrice. To use such garbage as eyeball bait and add to people’s ignorance in such a tragic story is disgraceful. Thanks, Gid, for helping to illuminate while others in the blawgosphere will roll in the gutter for a few extra views.

  4. LJS

    By Massachusetts statute, one does not have to retreat in one’s own home from someone unlawfully in it. G.L. 278, § 8A. Connecticut’s law is very similar and it has a rarely used defense of property law — § 53a-20.

    Traditionally, “home” under these laws is interpreted narrowly to inside the walls of a private residence — no porches, garages, enclosed yards, decks, shared hallways, laundry rooms, etc. In the wake of McDonald and Heller, it is possible that “home” under the 2nd Amendment might come to be defined more broadly, like “home” under the 4th Amendment.


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