The recently announced verdict in the Michael Dunn murder trial in Florida has sparked discussion in the media and dominated the 24 hour news cycle. The discussion in this post is intended to rationally address certain incompatibilities inherent in the text written for the Stand Your Ground model (including its legislative copies) with the accepted system of trial by jury. It is important to remember that since laws are written by humans, they are subject to errors and unintended consequences just as many other human creations. Laws are proven only upon their application and use, and it is at this time that they should be accepted or rejected. So it is with the so-called Stand Your Ground law.
The wide distribution of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) draft for a proposed Castle Doctrine Act has resulted in popularly known “Stand Your Ground” laws in 26 states. The proposed ALEC Castle Doctrine Act has been written into law in various states almost verbatim with subtle and minor linguistic variations. Also the title of the legislation may be subject to local variations and adaptations from state to state. The foregoing being acknowledged it is the purpose of the following discussion to isolate the disparity and intentional inherent advocacy for injustice, which codifies the denial of any possible legal redress for hurt and deadly harm committed against innocent victims whose causes are laid before the bar of justice.
As mentioned above the ALEC model has been universally copied by the legislatures of those states that have incorporated the Castle Doctrine Act model into law. Therefore for reference purposes I will quote Section1 paragraph 3 of the ALEC model that establishes the “Stand Your Ground” (SYG) provisions which reads as follows:
“(3) A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes* it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”
* Note: the use of bold and underline for emphasis is mine.
I submit that the intentional advocacy for injustice is inherent in the near impossible constraints that paragraph 3 places upon the jury function of the criminal trial process. The words reasonably believes included in the text of paragraph 3 requires the deliberating jury (in any case where section 1 paragraph 3 is invoked as a defense) to determine beyond the shadow of any doubt whether the defendant truly believed at the time that deadly forced was used that it was necessary to do so as to prevent death or great bodily harm from being forced upon the defendant by the person perceived to be the attacker, or in reality was the defendant acting at the time upon purely murderous intent?
The “reasonably believes” provision places an impossible burden upon every member of any impaneled jury, namely the requirement to decide upon the emotional state and exact frame of mind of the defendant at the exact time that the defendant used deadly force. The said juror must arrive at this conclusion according to trial procedure after observing all presentations of applicable physical evidence and witness testimony. However under our present court systems none of the prescribed criminal casework provides any inkling as how the exact mental state of the defendant (at the exact time that the deadly force was used) can be captured in the form of irrefutable evidence suitable for for presentation to a jury. Armed with days of well-rounded physical evidence and witness testimony but completely bereft of any solid non-subjective evidence that would provide a clear perception of what the defendant REALLY BELIEVED (at the exact moment he or she used deadly force) all members of the jury must reach a valid conclusion in this regard free from any possible doubt.
It is important to step back and take a careful look at what the criminal court system requires jurors to do in their role in the metering out of justice in American society. Jurors are not selected based upon their medical or legal skills, but rather as just generally disinterested folk. The trial mechanism establishes procedures wherein physical and factual evidence is aligned with logical argument and presented to the jury for both sides of the legal complaint. It has long been acknowledged that the role of the juror is that of a person who independently weighs everything presented in the courtroom, and then renders a decision to the best of their ability. Nothing more is asked of any juror selected for this service.
However, as stated above Section1 paragraph 3 places a heretofore unprecedented burden upon the juror in that it explicitly requires the juror to render a verdict without any evidence as to the exact state of mind of the defendant at the time deadly force was used. Furthermore the words “reasonably believes” are completely subjective in that what is “reasonable” to one individual is “extreme” to another individual. Likewise what one person might “believe” is a real set of circumstances in a given moment; while another person will perceive the prevailing circumstances to be entirely different.
Another important variable that could possibly influence the operation of the Section1 paragraph 3 provisions is the health and physical condition of the defendant at the time that he or she used deadly force to resolve the confrontational event. There are literally hundreds of biochemical episodes that could possibly be present in the physical body of the defendant at the time deadly force was used that could contribute to a momentary distortion of reality, which would completely subvert the implied bounds designed to establish the grounds for action as defined by the words “reasonably believes”.
The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America contains a declaration of the “People of the United States” which sets out six basic provisions, two of which are “establish justice”, and “insure domestic Tranquility”. In my opinion the previous arguments set out the reasons that Section 1 paragraph 3 of the ALEC Castle Doctrine Act violates at least two provisions of the Preamble to the Constitution, namely those cited above. It is obvious that justice rather being served is actually being thwarted by requiring criminal trial jurors to render a verdict as to whether the defendant in truth exercised “reasonable belief” that deadly force was necessary in the confrontation or the defendant had no such “reasonable belief” but just used deadly force anyway in a purely wantonly manner.
It is notable that under our court systems a defendant is presumed innocent until PROVEN GUILTY. Hence from the trial juror’s perspective the defendant upon claiming protection under Section1 paragraph 3 must automatically be assumed to have had “reasonable belief” that deadly force was necessary at the time of the confrontational event with his or her perceived attacker. Therefore an impossible burden is placed upon each juror during the deliberations in such a criminal case to prove the negative to the rest of the jury, namely that the mental state of the defendant was such that he or she did not have the slightest amount of “reasonable belief” that deadly force was necessary for their own self-preservation during the confrontation.
Thus the provisions set out in the “Stand Your Ground” law are intentionally constructed to obstruct the jury function of all cases wherein the jury is constrained by the provisions of Section1 paragraph 3, thereby denying the precious sweet relief of justice to the families of all innocent victims seeking legal redress in criminal court. This violates the key phrase “establish Justice” set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.
By this and other previous arguments, Section 1 paragraph 3 of the Castle Doctrine Act as proposed by ALEC and implemented in state legislative action should be unconditionally repealed.
To summarize, I will reemphasize the following key points:
The model of ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Act has been copied and implemented as enforceable legislation in 26 states.
What has become commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” law is actually the text that appears in the ALEC Castle Doctrine Act model Section1, paragraph 3.
Under general criminal law, all defendants are assumed to be innocent until proven guilty in court. Likewise if any trial defendant claims that their actions were consistent with the provisions of paragraph 3, namely that he or she reasonably believed that their use of deadly force was necessary (to prevent death or great bodily harm from happening to his or her self, or another or the commission of a forcible felony) all members of the jury before the start of the trial MUST PRESUME this to be factual and true.
Jurors in cases where the “Stand Your Ground” text will be used as a defense or otherwise be used in the Judge’s final pre-deliberation instructions to the jury face an unprecedented uphill burden in order to find the defendant “guilty” during deliberations.
Jurors in cases where the “Stand Your Ground” text will be used as a defense can only convict if the jurors can determine “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that the defendant had NO reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm from occurring to the defendant or others. In essence in order to convict, the jury must decide that the defendant had the belief (at the time deadly force was used) that deadly force WAS NOT NECESSARY to resolve the conflict in the confrontation.
The provisions set out in Section1, paragraph 3 commonly known as “Stand Your Ground” law is intentionally constructed to obstruct the jury function of all criminal cases wherein these self-same provisions are cited as a defense, and thereby bends the scale of justice towards injustice. Furthermore this legislation violates the key phrase “establish Justice”, which was written by the founding fathers as one of the six basic provisions in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, therefore the text of Section 1, paragraph 3 MUST be Repealed or struck down immediately.