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'Stand your ground. That's why we're here,' a Louisiana defense attorney recently told jurors. 'It doesn't say stand in your house and watch that guy run out the door, let him leave, get in his car go commit another crime.' But is that true?
So-called stand your ground laws remove a victim's duty to retreat before using deadly force to defend themselves. But what if the assailant is retreating? When do you have to stop standing your ground?
Bayou State Shooting
That jury in Louisiana didn't find the attorney's argument convincing, and instead convicted Aaron Neames of attempted manslaughter for shooting at the car of a fleeing home invader. Neames walked into his house as an armed Benjamin Jarreau attempted to rob it in 2015. According to the Advocate:
Jarreau held up the three people inside the house at rifle-point, taking their cell phones and rummaging through the house for valuables, according to police reports. Jarreau fired the gun inside the house, once into a sofa as the hostages sat there and again at Neames' feet when he walked in the door, according to police reports.
Neames and the other hostages were able to turn the tables on Jarreau, and Neames allegedly forced him to his knees, pistol-whipped him in the head, and demanded he leave the house. Once Jarreau left and got in his car, however, Neames followed him outside and shot into the car six times, wounding Jarreau. Neames was charged with attempted second-degree murder.
While Neames' defense attorney Ed Atebara argued he "did what he had to do to preserve life," Livingston Parish Assistant District Attorney Zach Daniels told the jury his "motives were personal. He wanted to take justice into his own hands." The jury sided with prosecutors, 10-2.
State of Stand Your Ground Laws
Louisiana's stand your ground law states that homicide is justifiable "[w]hen committed in self-defense by one who reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm and that the killing is necessary to save himself from that danger." More specifically, if someone was inside a dwelling when the conflict began, they can use deadly force "against a person who is attempting to make an unlawful entry into the dwelling" and the victim "reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the entry or to compel the intruder to leave the dwelling."
Because Jarreau had already been disarmed and left Neames's house, jurors likely didn't find his claim that he remained in danger credible. But that might not always be the case. Many states have stand your ground laws, and they can vary from state to state.
Florida's statute, infamous for its invocation in the slaying of Trayvon Martin, says deadly force is justified if the person using it "reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony." Therefore, the stand your ground protection doesn't only apply to your own safety and can be invoked to prevent another crime from being committed. So, it may apply to someone running away, if a person thinks the fleeing assailant remains a danger to someone else or might commit a felony.
But not all of a law's meaning is contained in the statute -- court cases and specific circumstances matter as well. If you have more questions about stand your ground laws, contact an attorney in your state.