Well, the media is still suffering from StandYourGroundPhobia., raising it in explanation of two recent killings by homeowners, that of Byron Smith in Minnesota (recently convicted and sentenced to life in prison) and Markus Kaarma in Montana.

Naturally, all their scriblings truly reveal is their ongoing ignorance of what Stand-Your-Ground is (and isn’t), and their perpetual obfuscation of Stand-Your-Ground with other discrete self-defense law doctrines, such as the Castle Doctrine, presumptions of reasonableness, defense of dwelling, and self-defense immunity (which they also do not understand).

Indeed, some of these “journalists” have been reduced to writing euphemistically about the issue, using terms like “Stand-Your-Ground-like,” in effect conceding the fuzziness of their understanding.  The latest event to spark media attention just happened in Montana, Man Who Set A Trap To Kill 17-Year-Old Intruder Invokes Stand Your Ground-Like Defense:

Seventeen-year-old Diren Dede lost his life Sunday, while in Missoula, Montana on a high school exchange program from Germany. He was shot dead at the home of Markus Kaarma, after Kaarma set a trap for intruders by intentionally leaving the garage open and placing a purse in clear view.

After motion sensors detected someone in the garage, Kaarma shot Dede. And while he has since been charged with first degree murder, he is already invoking a Stand Your Ground-like defense.

KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

The first and most obvious error in attempting to apply Stand-Your-Ground to the Smith and Kaarma cases–indeed to ANY case taking place in or immediately around the defendant’s home–is that Stand-Your-Ground is utterly irrelevant in that context.  Every state already has in place, by either statute or case law, the Castle Doctrine.  The Castle Doctrine eliminates any otherwise existing duty to retreat if you are in your home, or its curtilage (some states do suspend the Castle Doctrine if the person being defended against is also a lawfully present in the home).

That’s ALL the Castle Doctrine does–suspend an otherwise existing duty to retreat.

Given that the Castle Doctrine already relieves an otherwise existing duty to retreat in one’s home, there can be no rational application of Stand-Your-Ground, the purpose of which is also solely to relieve any pre-existing duty to retreat.   If any such duty has already been removed–whether by the Castle Doctrine, or because safe retreat was not possible, or some other reason–then Stand-Your-Ground has no possible role.

The second error in their coverage of these cases is to presume that because a defendant claims some legal defense, that such claim is in fact an appropriate application to the facts of the case.  Smith and Kaarma both claim “Stand-Your-Ground” in cases with bizarre fact patterns and in ways that would lead to bizarre outcomes, so there must be something wrong with “Stand-Your-Ground,” right?

Wrong.

Any defendant is free to throw any legal defense theory up against the wall to see what sticks, particular in speaking with the press pre-trial.  Doing so doesn’t magically make that defense relevant to the facts of the case, any more than a judge reading a particular jury instruction magically makes the instruction relevant to the facts of the case (I’m talking to you, CNN “legal analyst” Sunny Hostin).

As we’ve already noted, Stand-Your-Ground can have no application inside one’s home–because the Castle Doctrine is already at play.  Statements made by defense counsel to the contrary do not change the law. Most likely, counsel has made the same error as the journalists they are attempting to communicate with–using legal terms of art like “Stand-Your-Ground” in incorrect ways that facilitate news story writing but obscure the legal principles involved.

Perhaps these legal counsel simply don’t understand what Stand-Your-Ground actually is–based on my personal observation this is as true of most lawyers, even criminal defense lawyers, as it is of the general public (though not nearly as bad as the degree of misunderstanding or deliberate obfuscation demonstrated by “journalists”).

The “journalists” third error is that there is as yet no evidence that Stand-Your-Ground leads to any of the bizarre legal outcomes with which they and their gun-control colleagues are so concerned.  Smith was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.  Kaarma’s case is only in its earliest stages.  Neither Zimmerman nor Dunn were Stand-Your-Ground cases (safe retreat was not possible in either case at point when the defendant deployed deadly force).  The Marissa Alexander simply isn’t self-defense at all.

Nevertheless, I expect “journalists” will continue to provide innumerable opportunities for me to again point out their standyourgroundphobia.

Because, “journalists.”

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


Andrew F. Branca is an MA lawyer and the author of the seminal book “The Law of Self Defense, 2nd Edition,” available at the Law of Self Defense blog, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle), Barnes & Noble (paperback and Nook), and elsewhere.