There are a number of laws that allow people to defend themselves and others nearby to prevent harm from criminal activity and perceived threats. Some states have a law called “stand your ground” that allows extreme or deadly force to be used when certain serious threats are nearby. The legal doctrine called no duty to retreat is sometimes used interchangeably with a stand your ground law. 

A large number of states in the U.S. have some version of the stand your ground law on the books, or at least a similar self-defense law. The District of Columbia and Vermont are the only two jurisdictions in the country that do not allow force to be used to prevent crime, and victims are required to flee from perpetrators. 

What does the stand your ground law say? 

The law itself essentially says that a person does not have to retreat from a threat or criminal intruder in any place where they can be legally. This can be in their home, in public, and other places depending on the state law. Any amount of force can be used to protect people and property from an imminent criminal threat where injuries or death may occur. The law is often used by defense attorneys when their clients were charged with murder or related crimes. 

The origin of self defense laws

Self defense laws have a long, international tradition. This idea originated with the common law castle doctrine, which states that people can use force, even deadly force, to defend their own homes. Many nations around the world do not require victims of crime to retreat at all from a criminal, and some level of force is permitted against them. Many jurisdictions also allow citizens to make an arrest and detain the person before notifying law enforcement if they witness a crime in progress. 

Controversy over stand your ground claims

Some critics claim that stand your ground laws lead to increased violence and killings, thereby creating additional crime rather than stopping it. People who claim self defense by invoking a stand your ground law may still ultimately find themselves defending against criminal charges in court, and they may be convicted for homicide or manslaughter depending on the facts of the case.  

The killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012 exposed these laws to the nation, as the man who shot him invoked the state’s stand your ground law as a possible defense and was acquitted. A related criticism of these laws is that victims can be profiled and illegally killed based on their race if someone merely believes they will commit crime due to racist tendencies rather than an actual threat. 

The mass availability of firearms in the United States also complicates the stand your ground law situation, as gun owners can easily deal out lethal force with a firearm to intruders. Some prosecutors believe the law makes it harder to prosecute legitimate murder cases as well when the defense is available.  

Learn more about your rights and local laws

There are attorneys available to help you after any interactions with law enforcement. Use the directory on USAttorneys.com to find a legal professional in your state and city. 

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