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Who Stand Your Ground is not intended to protect


Elizabeth Flock summarizes her remarkable story about Brittany Smith, which you should read if you haven’t already:

In the January 20, 2020, issue of The New Yorker, I wrote about Brittany Smith, a woman from Stevenson, Alabama, who, in January, 2018, shot and killed a man who she said had raped her, threatened her life in her home, and then attacked her brother after he arrived to help. The man, Todd Smith, who had recently sold Brittany a puppy, had been drinking, and had taken large amounts of methamphetamine. Yet within forty-eight hours of the shooting, Brittany was charged with murder. She went on to spend about four months in jail and six months in a mental institution, despite early attention to her case from the criminal-justice publication the Appeal.

I wish I could tell you this story had a happy ending, but the devil fools with the best laid plan:

On January 14th and 15th, after my piece was published, Brittany finally had a Stand Your Ground hearing. Stand Your Ground is a statute that makes it legal to use lethal force to defend oneself against threats or perceived threats, with no duty to retreat. If Brittany won the hearing, she’d receive immunity from further prosecution. On Monday, she lost that hearing. She faces life in prison.

In a nineteen-page ruling, Judge Jenifer Holt wrote that Brittany’s use of deadly force was not demonstrably justified because she doubted that Brittany had reason to believe that Todd was about to use deadly physical force, assault, burglary, rape, or sodomy when she shot him. The judge wrote this despite the fact that Todd had already assaulted Brittany—a rape-kit evaluation found thirty-three wounds on her body—and despite the fact that Brittany said Todd had been choking her brother when she fired the gun.

This is, alas, all too consistent with the data cited in the original article:

A statistical analysis of Stand Your Ground cases in Florida, conducted by the political scientist Justin Murphy, looked at two hundred and thirty-seven incidents between 2005 and 2013. The study, which was published in Social Science Quarterly, in 2017, found evidence of both racial and gender bias. The gender bias applied to “domestic” cases—those which occurred on a defendant’s property. The probability of conviction for a male defendant in such a case was about forty per cent; for a woman, it was about eighty per cent. The analysis suggests that, in domestic cases, Stand Your Ground works better for men than for women.

In Alabama, Roman found, no women received justifiable-homicide rulings between 2006, when the state’s Stand Your Ground law was implemented, and 2010, after which the state stopped reporting its data.

Since then, a handful of women in Alabama have won Stand Your Ground immunity. But some women with persuasive self-defense claims continue to lose. In 2017, Deven Grey fatally shot her boyfriend, Barry Walsh, in Calera, south of Birmingham, during an alleged domestic dispute. Her lawyer wrote in a court filing that Walsh had been abusive throughout the relationship, and that, on the day of the killing, had “caused her substantial physical injuries,” including hitting her, pistol-whipping her, and breaking bones in her face. When the police arrived, she was bleeding from the head. Walsh, with whom she had a child, had fired multiple shots in the home, her lawyer said. Yet Grey’s Stand Your Ground claim was rejected, because the judge questioned whether the threat to her life had been immediate.

There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

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