One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Since Mark Dayton vetoed the legislation that would have brought “stand your ground” to Minnesota, it’s not surprise to see him attempt to justify his political position by shoehorning “stand your ground” into the Zimmerman case:

He commented on the acquittal last weekend of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed the 17-year-old Martin in Sanford, Fla., in February of 2012. Florida has a law similar to the one Dayton vetoed, although it is not clear that it figured into Zimmerman’s successful claim of self-defense.

“Whether we agree or disagree with the decision, we have to carry on,” Dayton said, in his first comments on the case. “We have to learn from the mistakes of the past — learn that these kinds of laws that are supposedly empowering citizen vigilantes to take matters in their own hands have catastrophic effects.”

Of course, as pointed out by Andrew Branca at Legal Insurrection, the Zimmerman case had nothing to do with Florida’s “stand your ground” law:

Traditionally, it was required that you take advantage of a safe avenue of retreat, if such was reasonably available to you, before using deadly force in self-defense. This was what is referred to as a generalized duty to retreat. It always had exceptions, such as the Castle Doctrine which lifts the duty when you are in your home.

The “stand-your-ground” law expands the scope of the Castle Doctrine beyond your home to every place you have a right to be. So, even if there were a safe avenue of retreat reasonably available to you, you no longer have a legal duty to attempt to make use of it before using deadly force in self-defense.

The duty to retreat itself, however, only applies where safe retreat is possible. If there is no safe avenue of retreat, there is no duty. If there is no duty, the “stand-your-ground” statute that relieves you of that duty is irrelevant.

This was this situation in the Zimmerman case. When George Zimmerman made the decision to use deadly force in self-defense he had already been trying to escape for at least the 45 seconds he was screaming for help and getting his head smashed into a sidewalk. There simply was no reasonably safe avenue of retreat available to him. Therefore he had no duty to retreat, and without any such duty “stand-your-ground” has no role to play in lifting that duty.

The claim that Zimmerman got off because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law is incorrect. Zimmerman deployed deadly force only after he was pinned to the ground. Since he had no avenue of retreat he could legally use deadly force in self-defense regardless if the statute existed or not.

Sadly, the myth that Zimmerman’s verdict was determined by “stand your ground” legislation is unlikely to die, especially when you have governors like Mark Dayton perpetuating the lie.