Stand Your Ground Turns Criminal Law On Its Head

Gun crimes continue to be a problem and a sore spot for law enforcement and political opportunists in the country. Guns, the tools of destruction but not the destroyers themselves, are under constant attack when a heinous mass shooting or assassination takes place.

What isn’t reported, though, are the times when a tool is actually used for good. Guns have been portrayed as evil in most of the media, because guns take lives, and all lives are innocent, even when some are not all that innocent.

When someone has not-so-innocent intentions, the Second Amendment of the Constitution allows for all citizens the right to keep and bear arms, and a myriad of court cases have defined that right when it comes to self-defense and defense of family and property.

But while self-defense is a right that Americans have and the government is not supposed to infringe, that right is handled in criminal court cases differently than most other cases in which a person uses a gun to injure or kill another person.

How so? In most criminal cases, the prosecution has the burden and responsibility to prove that the defendant committed the crime, while the defense only has to provide reasonable doubt. But if the defendant claims self-defense in the killing of another person, the burden of proof switches, and it’s the defendant who has to provide the proof and evidence that the act was truly in self-defense, and the prosecution only has to provide the reasonable doubt.

And when the tables are turned in these cases, very often a self-defense claim actually makes the cases much more difficult to prosecute, and many gun crimes don’t even go to trial or even face indictment because the prosecution often has difficulty disproving self-defense. This is partly why we don’t hear about self-defense cases in the news – because the drama is in the courthouse, not in the district attorney’s conference room.

The majority of states have self-defense laws, known as “stand your ground” or “castle doctrine” laws, which allow for property owners to use de3adly force to protect family or property, and in some states self-defense in public (when legally carrying open or concealed).

Each state has their own dynamics with these laws, but in Texas, there are three factors to consider – these factors have helped “write the book” on self-defense laws around the country, as Texas is one of the first states to adopt these kinds of statutes:

  1. Over the years, Texas has broadened its self-defense statutes to where they are among the broadest in the country, giving a person much latitude in defending property, self, and people even away from private property.
  2. As mentioned before, self-defense has to be proved and established by the defense, not by merely being used to disprove or discredit the prosecutions’ argument of intent or motive.
  3. Because self-defense is difficult to disprove for the prosecution, about 5 percent of those cases ever go to trial. In fact, an analysis of self-defense cases in Texas in 2015, for example, saw that only two people who made self-defense claims were actually charged with crimes – out of 45 such self-defense claims overall. Two of 45. Nationally that year, only 12 people faced charges out of 146 self-defense claims – or about 1 in 12.

Self-defense is not a get out of jail card for anyone who shoots someone with a gun. But when used as a defense, it can be effective in helping establish a persons’ right to keep and bear arms and the right to defend himself or herself from those with nefarious intent. The most effective way to stop a bad guy with a gun, as it is said, is by a good guy with a gun.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.