by Suevon Lee, ProPublica.
The Stand Your Ground law is most widely associated with the Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old killed in Florida by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who claimed he was acting in self-defense.
But as a recent Tampa Bay Times investigation indicates, the Martin incident is far from the only example of the law’s reach in Florida. The paper identified nearly 200 instances since 2005 where the state’s Stand Your Ground law has played a factor in prosecutors’ decisions, jury acquittals or a judge’s call to throw out the charges. (Not all the cases involved killings. Some involved assaults where the person didn’t die.)
The law removes a person’s duty to retreat before using deadly force against another in any place he has the legal right to be — so long as he reasonably believed he or someone else faced imminent death or great bodily harm. Among the Stand Your Ground cases identified by the paper, defendants went free nearly 70 percent of the time.
Although Florida was the first to enact a Stand Your Ground law, 24 other states enforce similar versions. Using the Tampa Bay findings and others, we’ve highlighted some of the most notable cases where a version of the Stand Your Ground law has led to freedom from criminal prosecution:
· In November 2007, a Houston-area man pulled out a shotgun and killed two men whom he suspected of burglarizing his neighbor’s home. Joe Horn, a 61-year-old retiree, called 911 and urged the operator to “‘Catch these guys, will you? Cause, I ain’t going to let them go.’ ” Despite being warned to remain inside his home, Horn stated he would shoot, telling the operator, “‘I have a right to protect myself too, sir. The laws have been changed in this country since September the first, and you know it.’ ”
Two months earlier, the Texas Legislature passed a Stand Your Ground law removing a citizen’s duty to retreat while in public places before using deadly force. In July 2008, a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Horn of any criminal charges.