Legal Issues

What is Stand Your Ground Law? Understanding Legal Deadly Force

Stand Your Ground extends the rights to defend ourselves outside the home with no duty to retreat. Picture By: Oleg Volk

On December 16, 1971, Roberta E. Shaffer sat down to breakfast with her violent and abusive fiancé, John Ferruzzo. Her two children from a previous marriage were downstairs in the basement. As a woman suffering from physical and mental abuse, Shaffer was scared of the consequences of leaving Ferruzzo.

He had previously threatened to kill her if they broke up. An argument over breakfast that morning escalated between the two and Ferruzzo once again threatened Shaffer. Frightened for her life, Shaffer sought safety in the basement with her children. Ferruzzo stood at the top of the stairs yelling to Shaffer that if she did not come back up he would go into the basement and kill both her and her children. Before Shaffer could get law enforcement on the phone, Ferruzzo started to descend the stairs. Terrified for her and her children’s lives, Shaffer loaded a .22 LR rifle and shot Ferruzzo dead. Shaffer was convicted of manslaughter. The Massachusetts court found:

We prefer instead to follow our long-established rule that the right to use deadly force by way of self-defense is not available to one threatened until he has availed himself of all reasonable and proper means in the circumstance to avoid combat.

In other words, Shaffer had a legal duty to retreat instead of using force. The duty to retreat means that people must attempt to remove themselves from a deadly situation.

Massachusetts has since enacted the Castle Doctrine, meaning one does not have to retreat from their home when threatened with bodily harm or imminent death: “There shall be no duty on said occupant to retreat from such person unlawfully in said dwelling.”

Stand Your Ground extends the rights to defend ourselves outside the home with no duty to retreat.
Stand Your Ground extends the rights to defend ourselves outside the home with no duty to retreat. Picture By: Oleg Volk

What if Shaffer and Ferruzzo’s altercation had occurred at her mother’s house, at Shaffer’s place of employment, the local park, or on a street corner? In states were Shaffer would have been justified in killing her fiancé in a public place are called “stand your ground law” states. “Stand your ground laws” extend the Castle Doctrine, where legally committed homicide is justified in a public space without the obligation to attempt escape.

You have no duty to retreat if

  • You are lawfully in the place you are
  • You are not engaged in criminal activity
  • You feel your life is in imminent danger

All but 19 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia) has some sort of Castle Doctrine. Some states have a Castle Doctrine that extends outside the home, but only in a personal vehicle: Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

“Stand your ground laws” are not new. In fact, in the 1921 United States Supreme Court case of Brown v. United States, (read more about the case at the following link: Brown v. United States) the court ruled in favor of the defendant who justly killed a man displaying aggressive and threatening behavior outside of the defendant’s home.

Florida was the first state to enact a “stand your ground law” in 2005, with many states following. Now over 20 states have some form of no duty to retreat law. Misinterpreted as “shoot first” laws, many people do not understand that a Stand your Ground Law is simply an extension of the Castle Doctrine. Self-defense and firearms expert Massad Ayoob presents an explanation of the law stating that Stand Your Ground Laws do have restrictions. It is not a shoot first ask questions later law. One cannot shoot simply because they are afraid. In all justified homicides, in the public domain and in your home, the person you shoot must have the ability to harm you, the opportunity, and have put you in jeopardy. You cannot legally apply unreasonable force.

Texas A&M University studied crime rates in over 20 states that have some form of Stand Your Ground law and found that crime did not increase. Studies in Florida show justified homicide rates have increased. However, there is no proof the two—stand your ground and increased deaths—are related. Studies in other states found the same laws did not increase justified homicide rates. It is difficult to prove causation because self-defense outside the home has always been legal if deemed necessary. Extension of the Castle Doctrine makes sense, as Daniel Webster, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research put it, “the very general notion that citizens should be able to protect themselves and you shouldn’t have to, in essence, run from crime.” “Stand your ground laws” have no intention of allowing people to justify unreasonable force. For example, you cannot legally shoot someone yelling threatening comments at you from across the mall parking lot. Remember necessity is part of every state’s self-defense law when you can use deadly force:

  • Was it justified?
  • Was it necessary?
  • Was deadly force reasonable?
  • Was death or serious bodily injury imminent?

For a further explanation on when you can use deadly force, read When can you Use Deadly Force? Stand Your Ground extends the rights to defend ourselves outside the home with no duty to retreat. Therefore, the woman pinned up against the wall in the underground parking lot, threatened with rape can justly use her weapon of choice to fend off an attack without having to endure a long and expensive trial. These laws allow us to defend ourselves rightfully outside the home from a dangerous attack.

Do you have any questions about the Stand your Ground Law? Ask them in the comment section.

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Comments (28)

  1. This article is inaccurate in that it claims that California does not have a castle doctrine. Cal. Penal Code § 198.5 is the castle doctrine:

    198.5. Any person using force intended or likely to cause death or
    great bodily injury within his or her residence shall be presumed to
    have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great
    bodily injury to self, family, or a member of the household when that
    force is used against another person, not a member of the family or
    household, who unlawfully and forcibly enters or has unlawfully and
    forcibly entered the residence and the person using the force knew or
    had reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry occurred.
    As used in this section, great bodily injury means a significant
    or substantial physical injury.

    Although not codified as a statute, California has recognized the principle of “stand your ground” since 1895. This principle is restated in a jury instruction for claimed self-defense. The instruction is contained in Caljic 5.50 as follows:

    A person threatened with an attack that justifies the exercise of the right of self-defense need not retreat. In the exercise of [his] [her] right of self-defense a person may stand [his] [her] ground and defend [himself] [herself] by the use of all force and means which would appear to be necessary to a reasonable person in a similar situation and with similar knowledge; and a person may pursue [his] [her] assailant until [he] [she] has secured [himself] [herself] from danger if that course likewise appears reasonably necessary. This law applies even though the assailed person might more easily have gained safety by flight or by withdrawing from the scene.

  2. Dear Mr. King,

    When the police identify themselves to you, then you have a legal duty to submit to their authority. Unless the police shoot at you without any prior warning or demand, you do NOT have the right to shoot at them. On the other hand, if the police identify themselves to you and you fail to respond to their authority and don’t submit to their lawful authority, they do have the legal authority to shoot you. Don’t put your theory to the test.

    Regards,

    Hugh

  3. Do SYG laws allow someone who is witnessing a shooter shoot or preparing to shoot other innocent bystanders (e.g., Washington Navy Yard) to use deadly force to stop the shooter? To be specific, if other Navy staff in that building (other than MPs) were allowed to carry pistols, could one of them have shot the shooter as he was shooting into the cafeteria, even if they were, say, behind the shooter and not being threatened by the shooter directly at that moment?

  4. If someone breaks into my home, I would consider them to be a threat and eliminate it as nessesary. If someone try’s to carjack me, I would run them over. This country would be great if we all just got rid of criminals.

  5. i have a conceiled carry permit here in the state of Va,i have been told I have the right to shoot an intruder of my home,vehicle and such if I feel for my life. So my question;how come the state of Va is not listed on this “stand your ground” issue?

  6. Maine Law:
    Title 17-A, Section 104, Paragraph 3:
    A person in possession or control of a dwelling place or a person who is licensed or privileged to be therein is justified in using deadly force upon another person:
    A. Under the circumstances enumerated in section 108; or [1975, c. 740, §26 (NEW).]
    B. When the person reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent or terminate the commission of a criminal trespass by such other person, who the person reasonably believes:
    (1) Has entered or is attempting to enter the dwelling place or has surreptitiously remained within the dwelling place without a license or privilege to do so; and
    (2) Is committing or is likely to commit some other crime within the dwelling place. [2007, c. 173, §20 (AMD).]
    [ 2007, c. 173, §20 (AMD) .]

  7. Unfortunately, most of California denies its citizens CC permits. The state has had statewide background checks for decades for the purchase of any firearm. Recently the state has adopted the most draconian anti-gun laws ever enacted in these United States, denying citizens possession of many commonly bought, sold, and used firearms and accessories widely available in other states. California has blatantly violated the second amendment rights of its citizens by denying open carry and simultaneously making nearly impossible to obtain CC licenses statewide. As for self defense, home invasion robberies and property crimes have never been higher statistically in the state, violent crime including shootings has never been higher statewide but especially in urban areas by illegally obtained firearms. The unarmed, untrained, ignorant, helpless citizens of California are sheep waiting for slaughter and their elected “officials” continue to deny them (unconstitutionally) any right to self defense. The average middle class home owner would be hard pressed to afford the law suits and legal defense team needed to survive a self defense shooting by firearm even if justified in the eyes of “common sense” folk. The solution is shoot to kill if your home is attacked, your loved ones are in danger or your life is threatened. As for outside the home or campsite, you have no right to defend yourself in California.

  8. Hey guys I would like to enter a comment from the other side of the law. I’m a retired Deputy Sheriff from Alabama. Since the Martin case, we all have seen a big push against the Stand Your Ground law. Alabama is a Stand Your Ground State, and what that means on the law enforcement side, if we arrive at a scene and there is enough visible evidence to show there was justifiable shooting, just as what I believe was in the Martin case, there is no arrest made. This is because in a Stand your Ground state law enforcement has the leeway if outside the home to make that determination. In non Stand Your Ground states, they don’t have that freedom. If the person does not attempt to flee, they don’t have the right to defend from bodily harm. At that point the officer has to be able in his mind to determine if the person attempted to flee, if outside his home. Well you can see, this puts ALOT more burden on the officer to not get it wrong, or then he becomes the one in trouble. As all of you saw in the Martin case, the Stand your ground law is in favor of YOU, the would be victim. This law puts the burden of proof on the State, not YOU. If you are not in a State with stand your Ground, I HIGHLY recommend you fight for it. If your in a State with it, I HIGHLY recommend you fight to keep it. After the Martin case, there have been GREAT attempts at changing this law, for the better of lawyers, not YOU. Stand your Ground law, is a common sense law. It gives a REASONABLE person which is in fear of his live, or that of another to defend it. The law needs no changes, and should be the right of EVERY citizen.

  9. I live in Massachusetts and I am a Class A LTC holder, and I am more afraid of being prosecuted by the State for attempting to protect myself with a firearm whether I simply draw it to deter a threat or actually have to use it, than I am being killed by someone (as sad as that sounds). This is a state that arrested a homeowner who was involved in a fight with a man who was breaking into his car outside his home. The homeowner won the fight too much according to police and was charged with excessive force against person breaking into his car! This state is currently prosecuting a prison employee for locking his gun in his glove compartment of his car, because that does not conform to Massachusetts storage laws. Even though locking the gun in a trunk does (a more easily accessible place by simply breaking the window and hitting the trunk button) or storing the gun in a locked duffle bag in the back seat (also Mass compliant). This state has shown little interest in protecting it’s citizen’s

  10. Georgia also extends Castle doctrine to one’s vehicle, by the way.

    My thoughts: The idea that there even used to be a (legal) duty to retreat from a home in some states is sickening. It sounds like one would be required to vacate the home in favor of the criminal doing what they wish to it. Duty to retreat in public is also a law in favor of criminals, as defense against them becomes criminal, until innocence is proven by the defender.

    What wisdom is there in turning your back on someone who is trying to harm you? What about the slow runners? elderly? disabled? over weight? They can’t out-run all criminals.

    SYG makes sense. It enables one to carry a force equalizer, and to confidently use it in defense.

  11. I just took the Texas State Concealed weapon course and in Fact this state which I love has the Stand Your ground laws in effect read. Read
    Texas Concealed Handgun Laws
    Chapter 2
    Selected Deadly Force Status
    It is such a law that it even extends to you if you are in defense of another person or persons who’s life are in imminent life threatening situation.
    very informative. read on and suggest your state passes these type of codes if they do not already have them.

  12. When in any location, lawfully and not in the commission of a crime, and you feel in imminent danger, an individual should have the right to use whatever force is necessary to protect themselves, their loved ones and others around them and thier property from death, injury or criminal means. It is that simple. I wish Texas would get with the program like Arizona and adopt an open carry law. This is guns country, too. But, apparently, not everyone has the same right to defend themselves.

  13. Does Illinois have a castle doctrine or stand your ground law. I know they just recently were forced by the supreme court to allow concealed carry(waiting on the state police to start issuing). I know the new CC law does have verbage that your vehicle is a “safe haven” but is pretty hard to read for a layman such as myself.

    Thanks

  14. It’s sad how democrats would fight so hard to make the american people think that these laws are something that they are not. There are many situations where their is no option of removing one’s self from the situation. But to a stuck up liberal they can always see what you should have done. It’s easier when you look down on some one else situation and judge, but if they ever had to deal with a home envasion them selves they would do the same.

  15. @GLKing. The difference is that in states which have no STG laws, the burden of proof falls on the shooter. In those states, if you shoot someone in Self Defense you are then arrested for murder and are forced to PROVE in a court that it was self defense and that you did not have the ability to “remove” yourself from the confrontation without the use of deadly force. Even if you win the case in a non-STG state, it will likely cost you $100,000 or more to defend yourself leaving most people financially ruined just for defending themselves.

    In a Stand Your Ground state, if evidence points toward a shooting in self defense then the prosecutor must weigh his/her ability to prove that it was not prior to bringing charges meaning that you would never be arrested in the first place.

  16. Washington state does infact have a castle doctrine law. Several people have legally shot and killed intruders in their homes lately.

  17. The castle doctrine laws are just common sense. Your home is your sanctuary, the place where you sleep, and in that space you should be safe. Castle doctrine or not if you come into my place of sleep and I think you are a deadly threat to me or my family, you will feel the force I decide. Those situations do not allow a lot time for decision so beware.
    Anti gun states like CA, NY think must think we should keep a knife by our bedside. I think that going into someones house without permission is a major threat that must be dealt with immediately, and I do not want to wait until the intruder is close enough for me use a knife.

  18. The “Age of entitlement” works both ways. When criminals feel entitled to threaten others, regardless of the location, the good American citizen is entitled to defend themselves. The Infamous W W

  19. The first law of nature is survival, no one, police, government, or Barack Obama has a right to tell a person they do not have this right. When confronted by some sort of assailant whether in your home, your driveway or the mall parking lot it’s a time of fear, adrenalin rush, your in immanent danger and your mind is confused and can’t believe something so dreadful is happening to you. Your choices are submit or fight back. No law can cover every scenario, it’s the individual’s response to the danger that will be judged. But let those who judge be honest to themselves, how would they react, unless they have been there and done that, there is no classroom, or law that can teach fear for your life.

  20. Don’t quote me, but I believe EVERY states has laws that all you to protect yourself if your life is in imminent danger. Bottom line: YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM ANYONE, ANY TIME. Even Law Enforcement.
    I have yet to read ANY self defense law that says you have the right to protect yourself if you feel threatened, unless it’s by a Law Enforcement officer.

  21. In Texas it’s called Deadly Force in Defense of Person.

    The person has to put you in fear of your life or serious bodily injury and if a reasonable person in the same similar circumstances would feel like they’re in danger of being killed then you’ve got the right to use deadly force.

  22. I live in Texas and we just past the Castle Doctrine not that long ago. I wish Texas would expan it to the “Stand Your Ground Law”. Texas has a long history of standing our own ground. I beleave alot of crimes would be detored if the bad guys know that any person has the right to fight back with the same deadly force that they want to conflict on a potential victom with.

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