What police are calling a “domestic incident” happened about 11:00 PM on a Wednesday night when an ex-husband broke through his ex-wife’s door to her home and fired a rifle. The report wasn’t clear which happened first, the shot or breaking in. He was met by his ex-wife’s new boyfriend who was also armed and the gunfight was on. The ex-husband died in the exchange of about 15 rounds. There was no breakdown as to the round count for each one and no word on whether the new boyfriend or ex-wife was injured.
The initial police reaction is that this is a self-defense case.
“As of right now, we don’t have any probable cause to establish a charge, and I don’t anticipate that happening,” said a local officer.
“You have a right to defend yourself. And in Alabama being a Stand Your Ground state by statue, you do not have a duty to retreat if you are defending yourself,” said a local defense attorney.
The attorney went on to say that Alabama’s Stand Your Ground law allows a judge or prosecutor to grant a defendant immunity from criminal and civil prosecution.
It certainly appears to be a classic case of self-defense against a home invader with violent motives and intent.
What’s troublesome (though not surprising) about the reporting, however, is the local media’s (and perhaps also that local defense attorney) inability to understand even basic self-defense law.
First off, the Stand Your Ground law is irrelevant here. This occurred in someone’s home not out in public. Castle Doctrine and Highly Defensible Property laws allow for someone to defend themselves from a deadly force attack within their home without a duty to retreat.
Next, the report conflates Stand Your Ground with Self-Defense Immunity. The two are not only not the same, they are not even related. Further Self-Defense Immunity wouldn’t come into play until and unless the boyfriend was charged which doesn’t appear likely here.
At the risk of oversimplification, Self-Defense Immunity law allows a defendant to request a hearing in front of a judge to present their case for self-defense. If the judge believes that the case is strong enough that it’s unlikely a jury would find them guilty, the judge can grant the defendant immunity from prosecution. It’s sort of like a mini-trial with a judge only. Whether that immunity covers both criminal and civil liability defends on the individual state law and not all states have this provision.
Lastly, prosecutors don’t grant Self-Defense Immunity. As was just stated, that is the purview of a judge. What prosecutors can do is to decide not to bring charges. That doesn’t protect from civil suits though.
Why does any of this matter? It matters because this kind of reporting confuses the general public about the Stand Your Ground law and leads them to believe that SYG laws allow people to shoot someone they are afraid of and be immune from being prosecuted which is absolutely untrue.
SYG laws only remove the duty to retreat. All the other conditions required to use deadly force in self-defense still apply. Self-Defense Immunity laws don’t prevent someone from being charged, they just provide a defendant with another option for their defense.
All this to say that this kind of confusion makes it harder to pass SYG legislation in the few states that still have Duty to Retreat laws in place. Let’s get this right so we can persuade people with the facts rather than letting them be lead by fear.