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Stand-your-ground law

A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called "line in the sand" or "no duty to retreat" law) establishes a right by which a person may defend one's self or others (right of self-defense) against threats or perceived threats, even to the point of applying lethal force, regardless of whether safely retreating from the situation might have been possible. Such a law typically states that an individual has no duty to retreat from any place where they have a lawful right to be[1] (though this varies from state to state) and that they may use any level of force if they reasonably believe the threat rises to the level of being an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm and/or death.

The castle doctrine is a common law doctrine stating that persons have no duty to retreat in their home, or "castle", and may use reasonable force, including deadly force, to defend their property, person, or another. Outside of the abode, however, a person has a duty to retreat, if possible, before using deadly force. Castle doctrine and "stand-your-ground" laws are acceptable defenses for people who have been charged with criminal homicide.[2]

At common law, self-defense claims are not valid if the defendant could have safely retreated from danger (duty to retreat). The castle doctrine is an exception to this. It gives immunity from liability to individuals who acted in self-defense in the home even if they could have safely retreated from the threat and failed to do so. The duty to retreat is a legal requirement in some jurisdictions that a threatened person cannot stand one's ground and apply lethal force in self-defense, but must retreat to a place of safety instead. Deadly force or lethal force is force with the intent of serious bodily injury or death to another person. In most jurisdictions it is only accepted under conditions of extreme necessity and last resort.

A 2018 RAND Corporation review of existing research concluded that "there is moderate evidence that stand-your-ground laws may increase homicide rates and limited evidence that the laws increase firearm homicides in particular."[3]


United StatesEdit


Stand your ground law by US jurisdiction
  Stand-your-ground law
  Stand-your-ground in practice
  Stand-your-ground from within one's vehicle
  Castle doctrine only; duty to retreat in public
  Duty to retreat

The states that have legislatively adopted stand-your-ground laws[4] are Alabama,[5] Alaska,[6] Arizona, Florida,[7] Georgia, Idaho,[8] Indiana,[9] Iowa,[10] Kansas,[11] Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri,[12] Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina,[13] Oklahoma, Pennsylvania,[14] South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas,[15] Utah,[16] West Virginia and Wyoming.[17]

The states that have adopted stand-your-ground in practice,[4] either through case law/precedent, jury instructions or by other means, are California,[18][19] Colorado,[20][21][22] Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.

States that have adopted stand-your-ground, but limit it to only when a person is within their vehicle, are North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.[4]

The states that have castle doctrine only with the duty to retreat in public are Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. This means that people can use deadly force in their home, car, or other form of abode but have to retreat in public.

Vermont and Washington, D.C. require citizens to flee from criminal assailants, even within their own homes.


Stand-your-ground laws are frequently labeled "shoot first" laws by opposition groups, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.[23] In Florida, self-defense claims tripled in the years following enactment.[23][24] Opponents argue that Florida's law makes it potentially more difficult to prosecute cases against individuals who commit a crime and claim self-defense. Before passage of the law, Miami police chief John F. Timoney called the law unnecessary and dangerous in that "[w]hether it's trick-or-treaters or kids playing in the yard of someone who doesn't want them there or some drunk guy stumbling into the wrong house, you're encouraging people to possibly use deadly physical force where it shouldn't be used."[25][26] A counter argument is that implementing a duty-to-retreat places the safety of the criminal above a victim's own life.[27]

In Florida, a partisan task force created by former Democratic state Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale found the law to be "confusing".[28] Those discussing issues with the group included Buddy Jacobs, a lawyer representing the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association. Jacobs recommended the law's repeal, stating that modifying the law would not fix its problems. In a July 16, 2013 speech in the wake of the jury verdict acquitting George Zimmerman of charges stemming from the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, Attorney General Eric Holder criticized stand-your-ground laws as "senselessly expand[ing] the concept of self-defense and sow[ing] dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods."[29] The defendant, George Zimmerman, claimed he was restrained at the time of the shooting, thus allowing no option for retreat and making 'stand your ground' irrelevant to the case.[30]

In 2014, Florida's legislature considered a bill that would allow people to show a gun or fire a warning shot during a confrontation without drawing a lengthy prison sentence.[31] In 2017 there was a bill proposed in Florida's state legislature that would require the prosecution to prove that a defendant's use of self-defense was not valid.[32] In 2018, the shooting of Markeis McGlockton led some civil rights activists and politicians to call for abolition of the statute.[33]

Racial disparityEdit

In 2012, in response to the Trayvon Martin case, the Tampa Bay Times compiled a report on the application of stand your ground, and also created a database of cases where defendants sought to invoke the law.[34][35][36] Their report found no racial disparity in Florida cases in which defendants claiming self-defense under the law are prosecuted, with Caucasian subjects being charged and convicted at the same rate as African American subjects, and results of mixed-race cases were similar for both white victims of black attackers and black victims of white attackers.[34][36] Victims of African American attackers overall were more successful at using the law than victims of Caucasian attackers, regardless of the victim's race claiming self-defense, but analysis showed that black attackers were also more likely to be armed and to be involved in committing a crime, such as burglary, when shot.[34][35][36]

A Texas A&M study found that when whites use the stand-your-ground defense against black attackers they are more successful than when blacks use the defense against white attackers.[37] A paper from The Urban Institute which analysed FBI data found that in stand-your-ground states, the use of the defense by whites in the shooting of a black person is found to be justifiable 17 percent of the time, while the defense when used by blacks in the shooting of a white person is successful 1 percent of the time.[37][38] In non-stand-your-ground states, the shooting of a black person by a white is found justified approximately 9 percent of the time, while the shooting of a white person by a black is found justified approximately 1 percent of the time.[37][38] According to the Urban Institute, in Stand Your Ground states, white-on-black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justified than white-on-white homicides, even though they are more common by over 72 percent.[39] The paper's author noted that the data used do not detail the circumstances of the shooting, which could be a source of the disparity. They also noted that the total number of shootings in the FBI dataset of black victims by whites was 25.[40] A 2015 study found that cases with white victims are two times more likely to result in convictions under these laws than cases with black victims.[41]

Effects on crimeEdit

A 2018 RAND Corporation review of existing research concluded that "there is moderate evidence that stand-your-ground laws may increase homicide rates and limited evidence that the laws increase firearm homicides in particular."[3]

A 2017 study in the Journal of Human Resources found that Stand Your Ground laws led to an increase in homicides and hospitalizations related to firearm-inflicted injuries. The study estimated that at least 30 people died per month due to the laws.[42] A 2013 study in the Journal of Human Resources found that Stand Your Ground laws in states across the U.S. "do not deter burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault. In contrast, they lead to a statistically significant 8 percent net increase in the number of reported murders and nonnegligent manslaughters."[43] A 2016 study in the Social Science Journal found that stand-your-ground laws were not associated with lower crime rates.[44] A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared homicide rates in Florida following the passage of its "stand your ground" self-defense law to the rates in four control states, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Virginia, which have no similar laws. It found that the law was associated with a 24.4% increase in homicide and a 31.6% increase in firearm-related homicide, but no change in rates of suicide or suicide by firearm, between 2005 and 2014.[45][46] The study was criticized by gun rights advocate John Lott's Crime Prevention Research Center,[47] and guns rights activist Andrew Branca.[48] The study's methodology was defended by Duke University professor Jeffrey Swanson.[49]

In a 2007 National District Attorneys Association symposium, numerous concerns were voiced that the law could increase crime. This included criminals using the law as a defense for their crimes, more people carrying guns, and that people would not feel safe if they felt that anyone could use deadly force in a conflict. The report also noted that the misinterpretation of clues could result in use of deadly force when there was, in fact, no danger. The report specifically notes that racial and ethnic minorities could be at greater risk because of negative stereotypes.[50]

Economist John Lott says that states adopting stand-your-ground/castle doctrine laws reduced murder rates by 9 percent and overall violent crime by 11 percent, and that occurs even after accounting for a range of other factors such as national crime trends, law enforcement variables (arrest, execution, and imprisonment rates), income and poverty measures, demographic changes, and the national average changes in crime rates from year-to-year and average differences across states.[51] A 2012 study examined whether a prominent Stand Your Ground shooting, Joe Horn shooting controversy, in 2007, which brought public attention to Texas' stand-your-ground law impacted crime. The study found that subsequent to the shooting, burglaries decreased significantly in Houston, but not in Dallas, over a 20-month period.[52] A 2015 study found that the adoption of Oklahoma's stand-your-ground law was associated with a decrease in residential burglaries, but also that the law had "the unintended consequence of increasing the number of non-residential burglaries."[53]


In Canada, as in England, there is no duty to retreat under the law. Canada's laws regarding self-defence are similar in nature to that of England, as they centre around the acts committed, and whether or not those acts are considered reasonable in the circumstances. The sections of the Canadian criminal code that deal with self-defence or defence of property are sections 34 and 35,[54] respectively. These sections were updated in 2012 to clarify the code, and to help legal professionals apply the law in accordance with the values Canadians hold to be acceptable.

Czech RepublicEdit

There is no explicit stand-your-ground or castle doctrine provision in the laws of the Czech Republic, however there is also no duty to retreat from an attack.[55] In order for a defense to be judged as legitimate, it may not be "manifestly disproportionate to the manner of the attack".[56]


German law allows self-defense against an unlawful attack.[57] If there is no other possibility for defense, it is generally allowed to use even deadly force without a duty to retreat.[58] However, there must not be an extreme imbalance ("extremes Missverhältnis") between the defended right and the chosen method of defense.[59] In particular, in case firearms are used, a warning shot must be given when defending a solely material asset.[60] If the self-defense was excessive, its perpetrator is not to be punished if he exceeded on account of confusion, fear or terror [61].


Under the terms of the Defence and the Dwelling Act, property owners or residents are entitled to defend themselves with force, up to and including lethal force. Any individual who uses force against a trespasser is not guilty of an offense if he or she honestly believes they were there to commit a criminal act and a threat to life. However, there is a further provision which requires that the reaction to the intruder is such that another reasonable person in the same circumstances would likely employ it. This provision acts as a safeguard against grossly disproportionate use of force, while still allowing a person to use force in nearly all circumstances.

The law was introduced in response to DPP v. Padraig Nally.

A person who uses such force as is permitted by section 2 in the circumstances referred to in that section shall not be liable in tort with respect to any injury, loss or damage arising from the use of such force.

The force used is only such as is reasonable in the circumstances as he or she believes them to be—

(i) to protect himself or herself or another person present in the dwelling from injury, assault, detention or death caused by a criminal act,

(ii) to protect his or her property or the property of another person from appropriation, destruction or damage caused by a criminal act, or

(iii) to prevent the commission of a crime or to effect, or assist in effecting, a lawful arrest.

It does not matter whether the person using the force had a safe and practicable opportunity to retreat from the dwelling before using the force concerned.

This law does not apply to force used against a member of An Garda Siochána (Irish Police) or anyone assisting them, or a person lawfully performing a function authorised by or under any enactment.


Stand your ground law applies to any kind of threat that endangers victim's safety, health or risk by an attacker. Victim has no obligation to retreat as says statement of the Supreme Court of Poland of February 4, 1972: "The assaulted person is under no obligation either to escape or hide from the assailant in a locked room, nor to endure the assault restricting his freedom, but has the right to repel the assault with all available means that are necessary to force the assailant to refrain from continuing his assault."[62]


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Further readingEdit