When I tell you that you must assume that everything the news media has to say about self-defense law and events is 100% wrong until proven otherwise, this is why: CNN: “What you need to know about ‘stand your ground’ laws”.
The errors on “Stand-Your-Ground” in particular and self-defense law in general, whether these errors are borne of ignorance or malice, are almost too numerous to count. But let us make the effort, shall we?
Cases of self-defense aren’t always simple — especially in states with a “stand your ground” law.
Actually, cases of self-defense are simpler in states with a “stand your ground” law, all other things being equal, because in those SYG states self-defense must be evaluated on only four elements–innocence, imminence, proportionality, and reasonableness–rather than five elements–the addition of the element of avoidance.
Although critics say Drejka’s use of deadly force was uncalled for, the Pinellas County sheriff declined to arrest him, citing the state’s “stand your ground” law, which gave him immunity. The decision sparked outcry and calls for reform.
Oh, I see: “Although critics say …” Well that’s a convincing anonymous argument.
Also, “stand-your-ground” is not “self-defense immunity.” Indeed, these are not only entirely distinct legal doctrines, they’re found in entirely distinct Florida statutes: SYG in §776.013 and self-defense immunity in §776.032.
Then CNN helpfully supplies it’s own demented definition of what it thinks “stand-your-ground” law is:
Generally, “stand your ground” laws allow people to respond to threats or force without fear of criminal prosecution.
There is no universe in which that is a true statement. There is always a risk of criminal prosecution if you “respond to threats or force” with defensive conduct. That risk may be great or it may be slight, but it is never zero.
Most self-defense laws state that a person under threat of physical injury has a “duty to retreat.” If after retreating the threat continues, the person may respond with force.
This is an abject untruth. A large majority of about 36 states are effectively “stand-your-ground” states in that they do not impose a legal duty to retreat before acting in self-defense.
Indeed, only a small minority of about 14 states impose a legal duty to retreat before using force in self-defense, and most of those impose that duty only in the context of the use of deadly defensive force. Fewer than a handful of states impose a legal duty to retreat before non-deadly defensive force may be used.
The article then includes several quotes from Mark O’Mara, who was co-counsel for George Zimmerman, and not surprisingly O’Mara’s statements on the law are completely accurate, which I’ll skip over for our purposes. None of O’Mara’s statements make CNN any smarter, also not surprisingly.
CNN then again mistakes the prevalence of “stand-your-ground” laws across the 50 states. Even more remarkably, they seem to not know that every single state provides “some form of legal protection in cases of self-defense,” to wit, if your use of force was in fact lawful self-defense you have zero legal liability for that use of force.
While most states provide some form of legal protection in cases of self-defense, 25 have enacted “stand your ground” laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Then the article gratuitously suggests that “Stand-Your-Ground” is rooted in racism:
The laws in at least 10 of these states, mostly in the South, literally say that you can “stand [your] ground.”
“Mostly in the south”? Yeah–so, that “southern” “deep-red” state California, the one in which Hillary beat Trump by a full 30% of the vote? Yeah, well, um … California is one of the most vigorous “stand-your-ground” states in the country. Quoting now from California jury instruction CALCRIM 505:
A defendant is not required to retreat. He or she is entitled to stand his or her ground and defend himself or herself and, if reasonably necessary, to pursue an assailant until the danger of (death/great bodily injury/ ) has passed. This is so even if safety could have been achieved by retreating.
How about Washington state, where Hillary beat Trump by ~14% of the popular vote? Stand-your-ground state. Oregon, where Hillary beat Trump by ~10%? Stand-your-ground state. Nevada, won by Hillary? Stand-your-ground state. New Hampshire, won by Hillary? Stand-your-ground state. Maine, won by Hillary? Stand-your-ground state. I could go on, but I’ll soon run out of states won by Hillary (thank God). And note that none of those states cited are “in the south.”
CNN then suggests that there’s something substantively unusual about Florida self-defense law:
[Florida] passed its “stand your ground” law in 2005, allowing people to meet “force with force” if they believe they’re under threat of being harmed.
Every state allows people to meet “force with force” if they reasonably believe they are under threat of being harmed, and meet the other conditions of self-defense. No state, including Florida, allows people to use defensive force if they subjectively but unreasonably believe they are under threat of being harmed (the best that can be hoped for in such a case is the mitigation of murder to manslaughter).
The article then provides several more quotes to Mark O’Mara, in which he makes correct statements about Florida self-defense law, but which the journalist incorrectly characterizes all of these characteristics as aspects of “stand-your-ground.”
Of all the states with “stand your ground laws,” Florida’s is “probably the strongest at this point,” O’Mara said, for three reasons.
I would agree that Florida self-defense law generally, one facet of which is “stand-your-ground” is probably the strongest in the country.
First is the fact the state’s law says a person has “no duty to retreat.”
Having “no duty to retreat” is indeed the very definition of “stand-your-ground,” and indeed that is the entirety of the definition of “stand-your-ground.”
Second: the state’s law provides immunity from criminal prosecution and civil actions, O’Mara said, “which not all other ‘stand your ground’ statutes do.”
This is self-defense immunity, not “stand-your-ground,” as already explained above. Two entirely distinct legal doctrines, two entirely distinct statutes.
The final reason, O’Mara said, can be attributed to a recent change in the law, which shifts the burden onto the state to prove that a shooter did not act in self-defense and is therefore not entitled to “stand your ground” immunities.
This is a facet of self-defense immunity, and has nothing to do with “stand-your-ground.”
The CNN journalist then makes the following statement:
Previously, the shooter used “stand your ground” as a defense, and had to prove she or he feared further bodily harm. But no longer.
This is a bizarre mangling of Florida self-defense law, as it again misstates “stand-your-ground” and also conflates two distinct facets.
First, “stand-your-ground” is not a legal defense, it merely modifies the legal defense of self-defense by waiving the element of avoidance. There is no such thing as raising the legal defense of “stand-your-ground.” That’s a legally non-sensical statement. But let’s set that aside and get to the substantive mangling.
Second, the sentence suggests that someone in Florida can claim self-defense for a use of force even when they did not “fear further bodily harm.” This is untrue. Every state, including Florida, requires a reasonable fear of imminent future harm in order for a use of purportedly defensive force to be deemed lawful.
Third, the sentence references that “Previously, the shooter … had to prove … But no longer.” This is referencing the burden of proof for a claim of self-defense. It is true that previously a defendant claiming self-defense immunity had the burden of proof on that claim, and that last year the Florida legislature shifted that burden of proof to the prosecutor.
Unstated, however, is that a shift of the burden of proof on self-defense to the prosecution is perfectly normal in American law–49 of 50 states require that at trial it is the burden of the prosecution to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt (the sole exception is Ohio).
CNN then supports their own mischaracterization of Florida law with a quote from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who also mischaracterizes Florida law. (Thanks for nothing, Sheriff.)
“Nowhere else is there anything like this in criminal law where somebody asserts something and the burden then shifts to the other person,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in a press conference. “That’s a very heavy standard and it puts the burden on the state.”
Naturally, CNN can’t complete the piece without also mischaracterizing the George Zimmerman trial:
Zimmerman defied an order to not approach the teen.
As anyone who actually watched the trial would know, and which I’ve documented at length, including winning a $100 bet with (then CNN legal analyst) Sonny Hostin on this issue, who to this day refuses to make good on her lost wager, Zimmerman never defied any police order in any way. Indeed the police dispatcher who was on the phone with Zimmerman testified at trial that he never gave Zimmerman any order whatever. For those interested in the truth instead of CNN-propagated myth, look here:
After this point the CNN piece degrades into pseudo-political world salad, and is not worth the effort to further fisk.
CNN claims to be “The Most Trusted Name in News.” Given the journalistic garbage they produce, as exemplified by their article on “stand-your-ground” fisked above, is it any wonder that their ratings are experiencing a plummeting collapse?
Now I’ll have to ask you to excuse me so I can bleach that piece of CNN trash off my computer screen.
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
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