Hear "stand-your-ground" and you probably think of the recent killing of an unarmed young man last April. The killer was not immediately arrested or charged for shooting the victim because he claimed self-defense and therefore was presumed to have acted in a justifiable manner -- even though the victim did not have a weapon and the killer could have arguably retreated or left the scene without incident.
You probably think I am talking about the Florida case involving Treyvon Martin, who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. While the Treyvon Martin case got national and international attention calling into question race, gun rights, and “stand-your-ground" laws, there was a similar story right here in Arizona earlier this year involving the death of 29 year-old, David Adkins, Jr.
On April 3, 2012, Adkins, who was mentally disabled, was walking his dog in front of a Taco Bell drive- thru in Phoenix. Cordell Jude and his pregnant girlfriend were exiting the drive-thru in their car. Apparently, Jude had to slam on his breaks in order to avoid hitting Adkins and his dog. Jude then states that Adkins yelled at him and swung an object, which he believed to be a pipe or bat, at the driver's side door. In response, and while still seated in his car, Jude pulled out his .40-caliber handgun and shot Adkins in the chest killing him on the spot. Nothing ever hit Jude, his girlfriend, or his car. The police never found a pipe or other weapon. Adkins died holding his dog's leash in his hand.
Because Arizona is one of at least 21 states that have adopted some variation of the "stand-your- ground" law, Jude was presumed to have acted reasonably and was not immediately charged with any crime.
Specifically, Arizona's stand-your-ground law is a Justification Defense. This means that the defendant affirms they used deadly force against someone, but that it was justified by Arizona law and therefore, was not criminal. See A.R.S. Section 13-205.
Pursuant to Arizona law, a person may use force in self-defense in their home, work, land owned, or any other place in this state were a person has a right to be, if they have reasonable belief of threat that a crime will be committed against them. Furthermore, in such instances, there is no duty to retreat before threatening or using physical or deadly force as justified under A.R.S. Section 13-411(A). In such instances, a person is presumed to be acting reasonably if the person is acting to prevent what the person believes is the imminent or actual commission of any of the offenses listed in A.R.S. Section 13- 411(A).
No duty to retreat....this is where I have a problem with stand-your-ground laws and the presumption that someone has acted reasonably if they claim it was done in self-defense. Is it really just to presume it is OK to shoot and kill someone if the shooter could have easily avoided the situation by simply leaving the scene, not engaging in a fight, contacting local law enforcement, or retreating? For example, what if Zimmerman was not following Martin the night he was supposedly attacked and instead left his suspicions regarding Martin's conduct up to the police (who were telling him to retreat all along)? Or what if Jude had simply continued driving away instead of deciding to stop, pull out a gun, and shoot and kill and unarmed man walking his dog?
The intent of a stand-your-ground law is to protect people from prosecution in situations where they face imminent bodily harm or injury. That seems to be good public policy. But stand-your-ground laws should not incentivize taking another person’s life under the guise of ‘self-defense.’ Legislation such as Arizona’s seems to convolute the message and encourage the use of deadly force over less lethal responses. The application of stand-your-ground laws in Arizona and elsewhere is still in its relative infancy and I for one will be watching with interest to see how juries evaluate the “stand-your-ground” defense in the cases pending against Zimmerman and Jude, among others.