How do “Stand Your Ground” laws apply to victims of domestic violence?

Over on her new website, CNN HLN anchor Richelle Carey asks a very interesting question: Does ‘Stand Your Ground’ apply to domestic abuse?

The ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws that have become well-known in the wake of the killing of Trayvon Martin.  The laws are supposed to allow an individual to use lethal force if they reasonably believe they are in imminent harm. So what about victims of domestic abuse?  On August 1, 2010, Marissa Alexander, a 31 year old Florida mother of 3 is about to be sentenced for aggravated assault after firing a warning shot at her husband.  The shot she fired missed him, but the charges stuck.

Alexander’s friends and family claim that if the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law applies in other cases, it should certainly apply in this case where she was attempting to prevent abuse from her husband after 4 years of violence. (Alexander previously filed a protective order against him after he was arrested for abusing her.)

Her sister says, “She did what she had to do to live.  I believe if she didn’t do that then I wouldn’t, my sister would be sitting in jail today — she’d be sitting in a coffin.”  During a fight where her husband threatened her, Alexander fired a “warning shot into the ceiling.”  Under ‘Stand Your Ground’, there is no duty to retreat if you fear for your life.

The judge in the case dismissed the ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense at the pre-trial hearing, which decides whether or not the law applies to the case before the court. Her defense attorney chose not to use the “Battered Spouse” defense, which requires an expert to validate her status as a victim of violence through measuring what psychological factors would lead her to defend herself with violence. Experts actually say that there are elements of both “Stand Your Ground” and “Battered Spouse” in this case, but that the facts given are difficult to prove either. And Alexander rejected a plea deal because she felt confident that the jury would find that she acted in self defense.

Apparently not. With Florida’s mandatory minimums and the fact the judge has no discretion to lessen the sentence given the fact that Alexander is a victim of domestic abuse, she awaits sentencing, which is expected to be 20 years.

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  • Angel H.

    I had not heard about this! One would think that this would be the kind of case that a “Stand Your Ground” law was made for.

    • blueeyes90

      Apparently, the “Stand Your Ground” law seems to only apply to those who use racial profiling.

  • Smiley

    “The laws are supposed to allow an individual to use lethal force if they reasonably believe they are in imminent harm.”

    Is the reasonable belief objective or subjective?

    In otehr words, must the threat be objectively high or dangerous? Can someone invoke the law if the threat consists of “I am going to hit you with this newspaper””? Or must there be a minimum level of threat (for example, being attacked by someone holding an axe or a knife)?

  • unequivocal

    I’m not familiar with the Alexander case specifically, but I do know that (as counter-intuitive as it seems), using a firearm without intending to kill your assailant will frequently invalidate self defense claims. Warning shots or shots intended to incapacitate or injure are viewed as an indication that you did not, in fact, feel sufficiently threatened to warrant the use of deadly force.

    So, in many places, as strange as it seems, admitting that you deliberately shot your attacker in the leg (in order to dissuade them) is very likely to result in charges being pressed against you, while admitting that you deliberately shot them in the chest (in order to kill them because you were afraid for your life) is less likely to result in charges.

    I’m not arguing for or against that standard, just pointing it out. Every self defense and conceal/carry seminar I’ve seen states that you should never, under any circumstances, fire a warning shot or shoot to injure, because you will be arrested.

  • Robert

    This is crazy. She had more reason to shoot someone that Zimmerman did. But Unequivocal might be right and when cases go to trial it’s about what the law says not necessarily who was morally right or wrong. So while Zimmerman may walk free, this woman could go to jail for 20 years. This begs the question. Could Zimmerman have intentionally killed Trayvon Martin to save himself from jail instead of just firing a warning shot? Surely a warning shot alone would have made Martin or anyone else run away but it could have hurt him legally. Being a watch volunteer in Florida he had to know the Stand Your Ground law.

  • honeybee

    This is very strange since I’m aware of numerous cases where a victim of domestic violence used force or even killed their spouse and did not receive any jail-time as a result due to this law.

    I wonder what standard they are using to check if it’s a valid defense?