You may not realize it but there are a number of states that have enacted “stand your ground” laws when it comes to self-defense from injury. Missouri is one of those states. Other states provide some form of civil immunity under specific self-defense situations, including Arkansas. So, what effect might these laws have on a personal injury claim? Let our Joplin personal injury attorney explain how this all works.
What does “Stand Your Ground” mean?
At least 24 states in our country have passed laws that do away with the prior duty to retreat before using force in self-defense. In other words, under these laws, citizens have no duty to retreat from an attacker if that citizen has a legal right to be in that place.
Florida was the first state to pass a so-called “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, allowing citizens to stand their ground as opposed to retreating in situations where they believe staying put would “prevent death or great bodily harm.” Many other states followed suit with similar laws. Although the language of these statutes will certainly vary, most usually require you to have a legal right to be in the location before you are protected for standing your ground.
Different types of self-defense laws
There are generally three categories of self-defense laws recognized by various state laws. These different categories include Stand Your Ground, the Castle Doctrine, and the duty to retreat. As stated before, stand your ground basically means you do not have a duty to retreat from a potential altercation with someone before resorting to using force (not necessarily deadly force) to protect yourself or others. This principle is not limited to your own property but can include anywhere that you have a legal right to be.
The Castle Doctrine is similar to Stand Your Ground but is limited to real property you own such as your home, yard or private office. In those situations, you have no duty to retreat and can use deadly force against an intruder. Some states, including Missouri, also include personal vehicles in this doctrine. States that do not have either of these laws in place basically impose a duty to retreat if you feel threatened before using deadly force against an intruder. In those states, the use of deadly force must be the last resort. For example, if you are safely inside your residence you cannot use deadly force to defend yourself or your home.
Stand Your Ground is a defense to a criminal charge
A relatively novel issue arose in the Florida courts when a defendant attempted to use the stand your ground defense in both criminal and civil proceedings. The issue was whether the defense, once established in the criminal context, would also apply to a civil lawsuit for personal injury.
The reason this was an unresolved legal issue is that, generally speaking, the criminal and civil justice systems are separate. Not only do they serve different purposes but they also require different burdens of proof. This explains why someone can be held liable in a civil case even if they have been acquitted in a related criminal case.
Recent Florida case demonstrates the dichotomy
The Florida Supreme Court recently decided that determining immunity based on the Stand Your Ground self-defense in a civil case is separate from that determination in a criminal case. Put another way, a finding of immunity in a criminal case does not automatically apply to the civil case.
In the Florida case, the plaintiff admittedly physically attacked the defendant without provocation while they were customers at a bar. The Defendant defended himself by striking the plaintiff in the eye with a glass. The plaintiff lost sight in that eye and he filed a civil personal injury lawsuit. Despite the fact that the defendant was successful in pleading the Stand Your Ground defense in the criminal case, the Florida Supreme Court ultimately decided that he still had to prove he was entitled to immunity in the civil action.
Although this ruling is not binding in other states that may recognize the Stand Your Ground defense, it sheds some light as to how courts may rule on this issue if it does arise. If you have questions about how to handle a personal injury claim involving the Stand Your Ground defense or any similar defense, let our Joplin personal injury attorney help.
If you have questions regarding the Stand Your Ground defense or any other personal injury matters in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation. You can contact us either online or by calling us toll-free at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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