Will an increase in justifiable homicides in states with Stand Your Ground (SYG) laws mean that more lives are being lost? Not so fast, says Massad Ayoob.
Historian Clayton Cramer noted that when Time magazine did a story on every death by gunfire for one week in America, and returned a year later to follow up on the outcomes, a significant number of those fatal shootings which had originally been implied to be criminal homicides turned out to be justified self-defense incidents.
Cramer cited one study in which justifiable homicides by armed citizens had increased three-fold – but so had justified officer-involved shootings in the same region. The change in law as it affected citizens certainly didn’t change anything from the police side. Cramer considers it logical to conclude that, within the studied population, violent activity by criminals warranting defensive use of deadly force had simply increased.
The recent Texas A&M University study on homicides as related to SYG laws notes, “This indicates that, in addition, we look at justifiable homicide, which is a separate classification available in the Supplemental Homicide Reports. One concern with these data is underreporting; Kleck (1988) estimates that only one-fifth of legally justified homicides are classified that way by police.”
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Many shootings which previously had to go to trial to determine justifiability – at the expense of many tax dollars, and much human suffering by the wrongly accused and their families – are now simply found justifiable earlier. Far from being A Bad Thing, early determination of justifiability reduces the cost in public treasure and private trauma, and better serves Justice in both respects.
Will criminals kill people and get away with it by claiming self-defense? Obviously not, as witness the jury’s recent verdict in Texas v. Raul Rodriguez. Skilled prosecutors have been winning convictions against murderers who falsely claimed self-defense for as long as there have been murder trials.
One need look no farther than the 2012 conviction for murder of Raul Rodriguez, the Houston area man who went to a loud neighbor’s house with a video camera and a gun, and as the prosecutor told the jury in her opening statement, used every “CHL (Concealed Handgun License) buzzword” in an incident that escalated until he had shot three men, killing one. Despite his on-camera statements of “I am standing my ground” and “I am in fear of my life,” the Houston jury saw it as a malicious set-up. Mr. Rodriguez is now serving a long prison sentence.
Will the families of men killed in SYG self-defense shootings be denied civil justice because of the civil immunity clauses? No. A finding of self-defense at the hearing level means that justifiability has already been proven to a preponderance of evidence. Wrongful killings are exempt from immunity, a fact obvious to anyone who reads actual laws instead of newspaper headlines or the catch-phrases created by people with agendas.
Will SYG laws mean that cops will slough off investigations of homicides as soon as the shooter claims self-defense? No, and with 38 years of carrying a badge this speaker takes personal offense at that false allegation. “The death of a citizen” is a top-tier priority for law enforcement and the prosecutorial bar alike, and it is a gross insult to both to suggest that either entity would cut corners in the investigation of any homicide.
The conscientious police and prosecutors of America well know that their duty is as much to exonerate the innocent as to punish the guilty. The recent, thoroughly-considered changes in the law from Texas to Florida to other parts of the country simply reinforce the principles of justified use of lethal force for the protection of the innocent from violent criminal assaults, principles older than American jurisprudence itself.
The bottom line is simple: sometimes, criminals are so violent that there is no way to stop them but with deadly force. It happens for cops, it happens for security professionals, and it happens with armed citizens. It is good to see responsible entities of the legal profession presenting both sides of this matter to those trial advocates who will take these cases to court.
This article is an excerpt from: Deadly Force: Understanding Your Right to Self Defense