Lee Gwira is a lawyer, friend, and all around bright guy.  Below, Lee takes a sledgehammer to the prevailing (left-wing) narrative regarding Stand Your Ground laws (SYG), exposing it for the lie that it is. 

On the evening of October 29, 2012, Jay Lewis, an employee of the IRS and a former law enforcement officer, had his world turned upside down as he was driving from work to his home in Des Moines, Iowa.

Lewis, who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, was attacked by James Luddick and Justin Lossner. Lewis warned them to retreat. They didn’t listen. Lewis fired his gun, injuring one of his assailants. The other fled. When police arrived, Jay—a black man—explained that he shot at his aggressors—two white men—in order to defend himself.

Yet Lewis would spend the next 112 days in jail.

His bail was astronomical. While incarcerated, the managers of the apartment complex at which he resided heard about the shooting incident. They mailed Lewis an eviction notice that he wasn’t able to receive because of his incarceration. So, after 30 days had passed, management vacated Lewis’ unit itself, dumping his belongings on the lawn outside his apartment. His neighbors helped themselves.

Eventually, a prosecutor would drop most of the charges against Lewis and a jury would determine that he did indeed shoot in self-defense. Lewis was free!

However, he was also homeless, without his possessions, and, now, jobless.

To make matters even worse, Lewis had accrued a massive debt to his attorneys.

Had there been Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws in Iowa, Jay Lewis’s life would have been vastly easier over the last few years than it has proven to be.

You wouldn’t know this, though, if the conventional media is your primary source of information. Media soundbites convey the impression that SYG laws permit citizens to act as judge, jury, and executioner. Furthermore, such soundbites are meant to imply that SYG laws are exploited by trigger-happy white racists who are encouraged to murder young black men with impunity.

In reality, SYG laws supply a legal procedure to determine if a killing was done in self-defense.  If the defendant can prove this, he or she is granted immunity from further prosecution.

In most SYG states there is no duty for an armed victim to retreat from his or her assailant: the use of deadly force is allowed. Conversely, states devoid of SYG laws prohibit the use of deadly force as long as a victim could’ve retreated.  In states with a duty to retreat the defendant is not allowed to use deadly force, if the jury concludes that the victim could have safely retreated from the situation.

In order to have a coherent discussion about SYG laws there are two legal doctrines that must be discussed first. The first is that of “Self Defense”. The other is “The Castle Doctrine.”  These two laws form the legal basis for SYG Laws.

The doctrine of Self Defense springs from English Common Law. Historically, the doctrine has asserted the right of citizens to defend themselves, as well as others, in situations of immediate and otherwise unavoidable danger of death or great bodily harm.  In order to do this, the Bristish Common Law established a three-prong test to determine if the action taken was indeed self-defense.  Self-defense must satisfy the criteria of “ability,” “opportunity,” and “jeopardy.”

Ability:  Did the attacker have the ability to exert deadly force, normally a fatal injury or crippling injury.  This can normally be done with a weapon, but it can also take the form of a disparity of force.  Disparity of force comes into play when an attacker is unarmed, but has such physical advantage, he is likely to kill or cripple the armed victim.  That physical advantage becomes the equivalent of a deadly weapon.  Common scenarios that illustrate a disparity of force are when the attacker is an average male and the victim an average female, or when the attacker is part of a group.

A disparity of force can also be created in the middle of an altercation.  For instance let’s say two men get into a fight.  One of the men manages to knock the other to the ground, climb on top of him, and start punching.  The man on top is now in a position to cause death, or great bodily injury.  Due to the dangerous position in which the victim finds himself, the law recognizes his right to use deadly force to defend himself.

Opportunity: Is the attacker capable of immediately causing harm, or great bodily injury?

Jeopardy:  Would a reasonable person in this situation interpret the assailant’s words/and or actions as manifesting an intent to cause death or great bodily injury?

When these three criteria—ability, opportunity, and jeopardy—are satisfied, deadly force in self-defense is warranted.

The Castle Doctrine is an extension of the Self Defense Doctrine applied to the home.  The Castle Doctrine, too, dates back to English Common Law. According to the Castle Doctrine, a citizen’s home is his or her castle.  If attacked in one’s domicile, there is no duty to retreat—even if one can’t defend oneself in the absence of the use of deadly force. Of course, the force used must be reasonable under the circumstances.

In essence, SYG laws extend the logic of the Castle Doctrine to encompass public places.  As long as a victim is someplace that he is legally permitted to be and is not engaged in any illegal activity, he is not obligated to retreat when attacked. If a person has a reasonable belief that his attacker is going to cause him and/or someone under his mantle of protection (a family member or customer in the immediate vicinity of the attack), great bodily harm or death, he may use deadly force.

But how, we must ask, is the criterion of “reasonableness” to be determined?

Although this standard of reasonableness is the backbone of modern western law, it doesn’t appear to be codified in state or federal law.   Most states define reasonableness using the common law Doctrine of the Reasonable/Prudent Man. To determine whether a defendant acted reasonably and prudently in defending him or herself, the trier of fact (a judge or a jury) must establish what a reasonable and prudent person with the defendant’s knowledge at the time would have done in the exact same situation.

One of the alleged fears regarding SYG laws is that they grant citizens an excessive degree of discretion: Citizens, it is contended, are permitted to act as judge, jury and executioner. However, this is simply not so: Whether a person uses deadly force justifiably or not is constrained by the standard of the reasonable person.

Stand Your Ground Laws have been codified in 23 states, and nine states, while not specifically having Stand Your Ground Laws, have enacted SYG doctrine through substantially similar provisions, or through judicial decisions.   While the media would have you believe that only a handful of states have enacted SYG legislation, the truth of the matter is that a majority of states have done so.

Only 19 states have a duty to retreat, and even in these cases, this duty is qualified: There is no duty to retreat if doing so will not guarantee the absolute safety of the defendant, or of anyone in the defendant’s mantle of protection. There are very few instances where that duty to retreat will be enforced. To paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in Brown V. United States (1921), a state with a duty to retreat is asking for “detached reflection when in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

SYG laws are words on paper. The intent behind the law can be as pure as the driven snow, but it’s the application of the law that’s germane. Opponents of SYG laws say that the application of these laws has largely been used to the detriment of people of color, and this is why they should be repealed. In my next article I will examine the application of SYG laws in their home state of Florida.

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