The law Pennsylvania is considering does not go so far as Florida’s, but the St. Petersburg Times seems to have a problem with the idea, using a few examples, most of which aren’t examples of how the law isn’t working, because the fundamentally misrepresent what the law in these cases does. Let’s take a look at the cases:
In one Miami case last year, occupants of two cars exchanged gunfire during a high-speed chase and one man was killed. The gunman received a three-year sentence in a plea agreement. Prosecutors worried about potential “stand your ground” immunity.
Prosecutors are going to worry about any potential defense that a defendant can possibly raise. That’s their jobs when considering whether to take a case to trial or to offer a deal. Notice the use of the term “stand-your-ground immunity?” We’ll talk about that later. The law only eliminates a duty to retreat. The defendant received a three year sentence, and plead guilty to a felony. Without more details it’s difficult to assess how the elimination of a duty to retreat played in this prosecution.
In responding to the incident, the Sheriff’s Office had to follow state law that forbids police from detaining a suspect who acts in self-defense. Deputies had to exclude the likelihood that Dooley was standing his ground under Florida law before they could legally arrest him.
And this is a problem why exactly? They still made the arrest. I think it’s actually a smart thing that police should have to make sure a crime was actually committed before arresting someone for it. Don’t you?
The “stand your ground” law is also used by defendants at trial to justify their actions. Rachel Wade, who is serving 27 years in prison for killing romantic rival Sarah Ludemann with a steak knife in Pinellas County, claimed Ludemann had started the fight, pulling her hair and punching her.
Of course she is going to claim self-defense. She would have done that even without the stand your ground law, unless her defense attorney is utterly incompetent. What’s notable here? It didn’t work. She’s serving 27 years.
In another ongoing case, Eric Canonico of south Tampa claimed stand-your-ground immunity after he was arrested for holding three teens at gunpoint, including the son of USF football coach Skip Holtz, in an effort to keep them from attacking his girlfriend’s son. But with facts in dispute a circuit judge refused to dismiss the charges.
Also another case of the law not working out for defendants. So how is this an example? There is no such thing as “stand-your-ground immunity”. It’s not like a suspects gets to declare “I stood my ground!” and then just murder whoever they please and get away with it. All it does is eliminates a duty to retreat, thus preventing prosecutors from judging the actions of people legitimately engaged in self-defense with 20/20 hindsight. Things such as, “You could have slipped down that alley, and there was a police station right there. You didn’t have to shoot the suspect who flashed that knife at you!” Critics of the law will tell you this never happens, but I can promise you this does play a role in many cases. Just ask Gerald Ung once he stands trial, because I can promise you they’ll use the duty to retreat in order to try to defeat his self-defense claim.
Even Florida’s law, which does some things Pennsylvania’s proposed Castle Doctrine does not, still requires you to be in fear of great bodily injury or harm in order to resort to deadly force. This is the standard everywhere. If a defendant did not reasonably believe that he was in fear of great bodily injury or harm, self-defense does not apply if you use deadly force. Of course defendants are going to dispute this, as they always have. Juries are who decide what is fact, and will decide whether what the defendant believed was ultimately reasonable. That is why we have this adversarial system, and juries.
If the St. Petersburg Times wants to convince people that Castle Doctrine laws are a bad idea, they need to do a better job than this. Does it raise the state’s burden of proof in disproving self-defense? Yes. But the state’s burden is already high, and honestly should be high, when it comes to convicting someone of a felony offense. The St. Petersburg Times also need to explain how states, like California, Arizona, and Texas, just to name a few, have gotten along so many years having no duty to retreat. These states essentially already have a “Castle Doctrine” law, and it doesn’t seem prosecutors there have any problems getting convictions.