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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Project Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

Standing Your Ground Across The States

2012 June 12

by Julia Michaels

The February 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin has ignited a media firestorm surrounding so-called “stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” laws in the United States. It’s escalated to a point where on Friday, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights voted 5-3 to examine whether “stand your ground” laws across the country have a racial bias.

These laws allow individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves in certain situations without being compelled to retreat. Nearly half of all states have a “stand your ground” law or similar law on their books, and many of these laws were passed recently. Even states without such laws are not immune to the controversy, as their state legislatures have proposed, sometimes repeatedly, bills that would authorize the use of deadly force.

“Stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” laws have their roots in English common law, which states that a person’s home is his castle and he has a duty to defend it. The legal basis for such laws in the United States is provided by a Supreme Court case from 1895, Beard v. the United States. In this case, the court ruled that any individual who is attacked on his own property by someone with a deadly weapon is not obligated to retreat but may “stand his ground” and defend himself, provided that he does not intend to kill his attacker or do anything beyond what is necessary to save his own life.

In 2005, Florida took the court’s ruling a ...

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April Common Ground E-Newsletter

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