April 11, 2012 2:27PM

Stand Your Ground: Law and Evidence

One objection that has been raised repeatedly against the “Stand Your Ground” laws is that gun owners can kill a person and then all we have is the shooter’s side of the story! The police will then have nothing to go on and so people are going to easily get away with murder. It seems to me that that objection just plays on the average person’s ignorance of the criminal law and how it works in practice.

Here’s an item about a killing from today’s Washington Post. A jury must decide whether a stabbing was self‐​defense or manslaughter. Excerpt:

Did a District woman stab her ex‐​boyfriend to death because he refused to roll over and share the bed? Or was the woman, who had allegedly been abused by the man before, fearful for her life and protecting herself?

That’s what a jury will have to decide in a trial that began Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court. Patricia A. Cave, 50, is charged with voluntary manslaughter while armed in the June 2 death of Lamont Warren, 36.

Prosecutors plan to use Cave’s words against her. After Cave was arrested, she told detectives in a videotaped interview — a portion of which was played for the seven‐​man, seven‐​woman jury — that when Warren visited her on the night he was killed, she allowed him to sleep in her bed while she smoked, drank and watched television in the living room.

When she returned to her bed, she told the detectives, she found Warren sprawled on top of her covers. “I said, ‘Can you get on the couch or just scoot over?’ ”

Cave said Warren refused to roll over and began berating her. Then, she said, he grabbed her by the throat and choked her. Cave said she reached for a knife on her nightstand, the two started wrestling and the knife plunged into Warren’s chest.

Although Warren was able to seek assistance from a neighbor in a nearby apartment, there’s no indication that we got his “side of the story.” All we have is Cave’s account! Why isn’t this case receiving more attention?! Maybe because it is receiving the level of attention it deserves–local crime trial, metro section.

In this previous post, I argue that the Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws apply to a limited set of situations–home invasions and cases where a person is under attack. In those situations, should we be surprised by the dearth of witnesses? No, because criminals choose the time, place, and victim–and they often choose to strike when the victim is alone and the police are not on the scene. So is it sensible to repeal Stand Your Ground laws, designed to help the innocent, because of evidentiary problems brought about by the criminal attackers? I don’t think so. Critics of the SYG law need to come up with a better argument than that because the evidence problem they point to is not unique to the SYG law. True, detectives and prosecutors like cases that have videotapes and great witnesses who saw the whole thing, but that rarely happens and they deal with it by introducing other evidence to support their case for a criminal conviction in situations where a self‐​defense claim is contrived.

This paper has lots of examples of ordinary people using guns to defend themselves in a variety of circumstances. Related item here.