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What Do You Know About the ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law?

Panelists (L-R): Leigh-Ann Buchanan, Joshu Harris, Steven Jansen, Ann Tweedy, and Steve McCarthy, who is addressing the crowd about his thoughts on the documentary, 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets.

On Monday, January 23, Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in downtown Phoenix hosted a conference called “Stand Your Ground in Indian Country.”

About a dozen people attended the workshop, which included a screening of the 2015 documentary 3½ Minutes, Ten Bullets, followed by a panel discussion and Q&A with experts on the law.

The panelists were Leigh-Ann Buchanan, chair, American Bar Association (ABA) Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice and co-chair, ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws; Philadelphia Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, co-chairperson of the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Appellate and Habeas Practice Committee, and his legislative director, Joshu Harris; Steven Jansen, director of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence; Ann Tweedy, tribal attorney with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and adjunct professor, University of Tulsa College of Law; and Steve McCarthy, capital criminal defense attorney with the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office.

“Stand-your-ground” laws are essentially a revocation of the duty to retreat and generally state that, under certain circumstances, individuals can use force to defend themselves without first attempting to retreat from the danger.

In many states with stand-your-ground laws, a claim of self-defense under the stand-your-ground law offers immunity from prosecution rather than an affirmative defense. Arizona is one of about 24 states that utilize this law.

The film is a documentary based on the 2012 shooting of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old African American teenager, by Michael Dunn, a 47-year-old white man, at a gas station in Florida. All it took was loud rap music and cursing for Dunn to shoot Davis, according to the film.

Judge Russell Healey said to Dunn at the sentencing, “There is nothing wrong with retreating or de-escalating a situation. Mr. Dunn, this tragedy should have and could have been avoided.” After 23 months in jail, Dunn was sentenced to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Davis and for shooting at three other teenagers.

This film, along with the February 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, sheds light on stand-your-ground laws. Martin, an African American teenager, looked “suspicious” walking through a Florida neighborhood and was fatally shot by 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a community watch volunteer.

In a research study titled Indian Tribes and Gun Regulation: Should Tribes Exercise Their Sovereign Right to Enact Gun Bans or Stand-Your-Ground Laws? conducted by Tweedy, she states, “Tribes may legitimately view the exceedingly high crime rates on reservations and the relative lack of police presence as reasons to enact stand-your-ground laws. Such laws have been enacted in several states in recent years ….” Stand-your-ground laws allow “people to use deadly force to defend themselves if they feel threatened, even if they are in a public place and have a realistic option to retreat.” They are understood by their proponents to “protect the innocent over the criminal, the peace-loving over the violent, and the law-keeper over the law-breaker.”

The report continues, “Tribes generally lack criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians and instead must—in most cases—rely on the federal government, which has historically declined to prosecute a large number of cases. Moreover, reservations tend to be plagued by violent crime, much of which is committed by non-Indians. Even in cases where states are responsible for prosecuting on-reservation crime, there is evidence that states have often not diligently performed this function and that they appear to discriminate against Indian victims and alleged Indian perpetrators.”

To learn more about the stand-your-ground law in Arizona and how this may apply to you, visit https://tobinlawoffice.com/2016/03/self-defense-laws-in-the-state-of-arizona-when-is-assault-or-physical-force-justified/.

Ann Tweedy’s research paper can be read in its entirety here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Papers.cfm?abstract_id=2558911.