Student Life | The independent newspaper of Washington University in St. Louis since 1878

Castle Doctrine sets dangerous precedent

Almost three months after George Zimmerman was declared innocent in the shooting of Trayvon Martin, little has improved in the cases of “stand your ground” laws and castle doctrines. These pieces of state legislation were created to allow citizens to defend themselves. However, they have grown into much more than that. States with the most expansive laws allow a witness of a crime to use deadly force so long as he or she feels it is necessary. The law should not be based on how one person feels; it should be based on the facts of the situation and the interactions of all participants. “Stand your ground” policies reduce the law from an objective tool of justice to a subjective propagator of violence.

Being from Texas, I have spent much time living in a community with a very harsh castle doctrine. At home, by law, if anyone walks onto my land or gets into my car, I have the right to use any force I want against them if I feel threatened. The Texas castle doctrine also provides that if a person has a right to be present at a location, he is not required to retreat before using deadly force. So no matter where I am, I can use unlimited force when a crime occurs if I believe it to be necessary. A random person on the street can legally use his firearm before a police officer is allowed to. The castle doctrine creates a dangerous paradox by restricting the use of deadly force less for citizens than for trained officers of the law. These laws, which claim to be reasonable, are among the most subjective and irrational of all state laws.

By not requiring observers or potential victims to try first escaping a violent situation, the state of Texas encourages its citizens to use deadly force as the first course of action, whether the original crime being committed in the first place is violent or not, making trespassing, vandalism and robbery all crimes punishable by death. A few years ago, a childhood friend of mine fell victim to this diabolical law. He stole a television, worth no more than $100, by entering through a homeowner’s window. As he was jumping a fence with it, he was shot in the back by the resident. The resident did not even see his face. My friend was young, non-threatening and unarmed. I don’t support my friend’s decision to steal, but the fact remains that he was legally executed over a television. When the incident was reported in the newspaper, letters flooded in praising the resident for the heroic course of action. Evidently, both the law and society consider a television worth more than an inner-city African American teenager.

These laws justify murder and make property more valuable than the lives of the people around it. Additionally, “stand your ground” laws and castle doctrines makes communities more hostile and increase the current racial disparity in homicide convictions. Research by Texas A&M University found that murder and non-negligent manslaughter rates increased by 8 percent in states with “stand your ground” laws. Furthermore, John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, found that Caucasians in states with “stand your ground” laws were 354 percent more likely to be found justified in killing an African American than if they had killed another Caucasian. Compare this to an average non-“stand your ground” state, where a Caucasian is 250 percent more likely to be justified in killing an African-American than in killing a Caucasian. If the aim of the law is to protect people and promote equality, “stand your ground” laws do neither.

Current “stand your ground” laws and castle doctrines degrade the value of human life, result in more death, increase racial disparities in our legal system and give citizens the right to be their own judge, jury and executioner. The lack of initiative to repeal or amend these brutal laws stems from large proportions of both Democrats and Republicans still supporting them. Party members in state legislatures across the U.S. need to work together to make these laws more specific so that the current status quo is refined into a law that actually discourages violence.

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  • Joseph B Campbell says:

    Cardinal rule: If it don’t belong to you don’t touch it. If it ain’t your property don’t go there. Don’t look at it. Don’t lust after it. If you can not pay the price do not do the crime!

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  • MrApple says:

    “Current “stand your ground” laws and castle doctrines degrade the value of human life…”
    If by “degrade the value of human life” you mean the life of the robber, attacker, and rapist then sure. How much do you value the person that comes into your life hell bent on stealing your possession, your dignity and self-worth, and maybe even your life? They count for ZERO in my book.

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  • texastopcat says:

    Texxas Castle law is not exactly as portrayed.
    A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:
    (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and
    (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:
    (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or
    (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and
    (3) he reasonably believes that:
    (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or
    (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

    Acts 1973, 63rd Leg., p. 883, ch. 399, Sec. 1, eff. Jan. 1, 1974. Amended by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 900, Sec. 1.01, eff. Sept. 1, 1994.
    - See more at: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/txstatutes/PE/2/9/D/9.42#sthash.ZWcIbtVv.dpuf

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    • Radiant Sunshine says:

      So Texas law is barbaric, got it.

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    • Amy says:

      So my TV is more valuable than someone’s life?

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      • MrApple says:

        Are the hours and hours of the time you spent working so that you could afford that TV worth anything to you? Because they mean absolutely nothing to the crook that steals that same TV from you. Crime is a dangerous profession. The crook takes a shot at getting something for nothing and takes a chance at just getting shot. Break into my house and find out if your life is worth my long hours at work. The crook who does won’t like the answer.

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        • Radiant Sunshine says:

          In Texas, the life of a thief is defined by that one action, and is worth a few hours of labor. Lovely place.

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      • Christopher says:

        If they are stealing your TV while you are at home your life is probably in danger. Its easy to have a naive view on this subject when you have obviously never been a victim. I would bet that if someone threatens your life or the life of a loved one, you would have a different view on this.

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        • Amy says:

          I don’t think it’s naive to say that no material item is worth the life of a human being. In this case the person was retreating from the property. I would call the police and go to a neighbor’s house until they came. None of the situation presented warranted a loss of life

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  • Allan says:

    “If the aim of the law is to protect people and promote equality, “stand your ground” laws do neither.”

    Promote equality? No it doesn’t and was not intended to.

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  • Allan says:

    “When the incident was reported in the newspaper, letters flooded in praising the resident for the heroic course of action. Evidently, both the law and society consider a television worth more than an inner-city African American teenager.”

    No…Society considers a television more valuable than a thief.

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    • MrApple says:

      My TV is more valuable than any thug that breaks into my home, at least to me. And I’m the one who meets the bump in the night with a flashlight and Glock 19.

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  • Luke says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article, Aaron. I never associated the SYG law with race but this article creates an interesting connection between the two.
    Clearly, based off of your friend’s experience, there are flaws with the SYG law. As noted, your friend was at fault yet he put no one’s life in danger. Therefore, I feel that he should not be allowed to be shot and killed with no legal consequences.
    Thank you for addressing this controversial topic, I think it is essential for people to be informed on the corruption behind the SYG law.

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    • texastopcat says:

      In Texas as anywhere else a person with a gun SHOULD use deadly force only when no other recourse exists. However, should there be questions after the fact, the victim of the crime should receive the benefit of the doubt since the criminal picked the victim, picked the time of the attack, picked the tools needed, picked how many friends to bring, and choose to not surrender.
      Since police are “citizens” they do not have more restrictions at any point than any other citizens, they may have policies for their official conduct, but they do not loose their citizenship when they put on a badge.

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  • BHirsh says:

    Ridiculous.

    Castle Doctrine and SYG laws exist as an answer to overzealous prosecutors charging people when there is a preponderance of evidence for exoneration.

    It’s really just that simple.

    These are necessary laws to effect due process protections already afforded us in our Constitution.

    I mean, it’s not like the government never oversteps its delegated authority, right…?

    [eyecross]

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  • anothernonymous says:

    Not being from Texas, I can not say this with absolute certainty, but I think what Mr. Hall is trying to say is that the law has allowed this sort of violence. Even if the law does not technically allow people to act in every situation, it has been interpreted that way by the citizens and the courts. Unfortunately, laws are not always enforced as they were intended to be. If violence is allowed to occur legally in any degree, there are going to be many unjustified deaths.

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    • texastopcat says:

      Texas law does not give any one license/permission to kill. Texas law allows force (including deadly force) necessary to STOP a severe threat on a person (and in very rare cases property). When the threat has ended, the justifiable use of force ends. Generally three things have to be present. 1) Ability for the criminal to do harm to you, weapon or more strength or more numbers 2) Opportunity to do harm, not hand cuffed in a patrol car 3)intent – words or actions.
      In the example for this article, we really do not know enough to make a determination. Did this criminal claim to have a gun and claim to come back and kill any witnesses?

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  • macnorfin says:

    “A few years ago, a childhood friend of mine fell victim to this diabolical law.”

    Your friend burglarized an occupied residence and got everything he deserved. The writer of this article displays a shocking lack of understanding of even the most basic aspects of the US criminal justice system, which, I suppose, says a lot about Washington University.

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    • BHirsh says:

      Astute point, albeit one the anti’s will ignore.

      Trayvon Martin is the textbook example. Contrary to the myth painted by Martin’s canonizers, he was shot in flagrante delicto, committing the acts of aggravated battery and attempted murder.

      Though SYG wasn’t invoked in that case (Zimmerman couldn’t retreat; he was on his back, straddled by his attacker, having his head smashed against a concrete sidewalk), basic self-defense law applies.

      At the point he discharged his weapon, there existed absolutely no question that his life was in danger.

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  • Tom Phillips says:

    George Zimmerman’s lawyers never relied on Stand Your Ground laws during his trial. In fact they said before the trial even started that they wouldn’t be using that law (http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/30/justice/florida-zimmerman-defense/).

    So I am wondering why you are trying to link the two together. Was it just poor research? Or are you using sensationalist journalist techniques to try and increase the number of people who read this page? Either way, the attempt to link the two is shoddy work.

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  • Bruce Richardson says:

    Mr. Hall, you said:

    “if anyone walks onto my land or gets into my car, I have the right to use any force I want against them if I feel threatened.”

    you need to actually look at the Texas statutes.

    “Section 9.31; Self Defense

    a person is justified in using force against another when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect the actor against the other’s use or attempted use of unlawful force.

    It isn’t enough that you “feel” threatened. The key word is “reasonably.” Google on the “reasonable man theory.” Is your fear of serious injury or death reasonable? You cannot shoot someone who simply walks across your front yard. Texas law considers the use of deadly force to be reasonable in a number of situations. You can look at the actual statutes here:

    http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/txstatutes/PE/2/9/C/9.31

    It would be reasonable where someone has “unlawfully and with force entered, or was attempting to enter unlawfully and with force, the actor’s occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment.”

    If someone steals your property, you can pursue them. You cannot simply execute them. But if, when in the process of recovering your property, you reasonably believe you are in danger of being seriously injured or killed, you can defend yourself using deadly force.

    The idea that a Texan should be required to flee from their own home if someone breaks in is stupid and potentially dangerous. The safest place would likely be your own home. You know the layout. The criminal probably doesn’t. How would a homeowner know that there isn’t another criminal waiting outside?

    “stand your ground” laws and castle doctrines makes communities more hostile”

    Only if you are a criminal. A smart criminal might be better off taking his business to a more “progressive” state. In Texas, criminals are not a protected class. If a criminal decides to break into someone’s home, rape, or rob someone, he is putting the honest citizen in the position of having to defend himself or herself. If the criminal is killed, he did it to himself.

    You seem to imply that “stand your ground” is racist. Black citizens are more often victims than white citizens. When either is victimized, the perpetrator is most often black. I have no problem with a black citizen using deadly force to defend himself or herself against a black or white perpetrator. We all have the right to defend ourselves.

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  • Miranda says:

    While I disagree with your statement that the aim of the law is to “promote equality,” I do agree that it is meant to offer protection in special circumstances and that it is, unfortunately, abused. That being said, a large part of the responsibility ought to fall on the justice system, as Jeremy said, to interpret the law in way that protects those who fall victim to it, especially as I don’t see the government coming together, holding hands and seeing kumbayah around a campfire to revise/refine these laws anytime soon.

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  • John says:

    “My friend was young, non-threatening and unarmed.”

    If you enter my home, I have no idea whether you’re “threatening” or not. As other posters noted, if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t STEAL.

    Simple logic, even a cave man can follow it.

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    • thedefender says:

      He’s not defending’s his friend’s action to steal; in fact, he acknowledges that the stealing was incorrect. However, the first response to seeing someone run away from the house (which implies that the homeowner was not in immediate danger of his life, just his TV) should not be to shoot them.

      Whether the person was stealing anything or not is independent of the issue. The issue is that even with the burglary, the homeowner’s life clearly was not in danger, yet he/she was allowed to use a firearm.

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      • texastopcat says:

        Just as a note, crimes committed after dark are considered much more serious under Texas law. Other issues of the example are not given so it is impossible to really know how justified the homeowner was or was not in this case. At the very least the police that investigated and DA concluded that the homeowner was justified.

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    • anonymous says:

      If it is the same event I am thinking of, you should really watch the video.

      He gets shot while leaving.

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    • MrApple says:

      Crime is inherently a dangerous profession.

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  • Percy says:

    Black Man,
    An accused is presumed innocent, until proven guilty. If the prosecution cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that an accused is guilty, then the accused keeps his status as innocent. Therefore, George Zimmerman is innocent. At least, this is how we do it here in USA.

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  • mike says:

    Hey. Don’t want to get shot. Don’t steal my TV.

    It’s not racist if the facts state that people of other than white race, are more likely to steal your tv. Look at percentages of people of different races that are caught for crimes.

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  • Ryan Gosling says:

    I totally agree with what you’re saying Mr. Hall we can’t simply give people the arbitrary right to kill others. I think you’re very well thought out and it is interesting that your brought in the issue of racism into the topic

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    • BHirsh says:

      First of all, laws don’t grant rights; they should exist to protect them.

      Second, SYG (or the more limited Castle Doctrine laws) don’t ‘give the arbitrary right to kill others’. They stop the authorities from pursuing cases where the preponderance of evidence is exculpatory.

      Revisionism don’t git it, pardner.

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  • blackbird says:

    The purpose of these laws is to allow individuals who have feel helpless and powerless right to legally kill or murder anyone, anytime they want for absolutely any reason or no reason at all.

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  • T Flugerson says:

    This is utter drivel. Every statement as to what the law of Texas or elsewhere is stated incorrectly. The racial conclusions are nonsense. Comparisons between what a sworn law enforcement can do vs. a civilian are also misstated. Aaron Hall, you should not be given a diploma unless your major is liberal, uninformed opinion.

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  • Just another black man caught up in the mix says:

    Oi.

    “Almost three months after George Zimmerman was declared innocent in the shooting of Trayvon Martin…”

    He wasn’t declared innocent. He was declared not guilty. Not guilty means that the prosecution could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Zimmerman was guilty. There’s a big difference between the two that often gets forgotten, and Zimmerman’s acquittal is a triumph of our legal structure over the passions of the mob.

    >By not requiring observers or potential victims to try first escaping a violent situation, the state of Texas encourages its citizens to use deadly force as the first course of action

    No. The state of Texas is trying not to restrict its citizens’ ability to defend their right to life in a situation in which their life is threatened. Requiring people to weigh the merits of attempting to flee vs. using deadly force in a situation where their life is threatened does just that. If someone is trying to murder me, it should not be incumbent upon me to try to escape if bludgeoning them to death is a readily-available option.

    Also, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. “detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”

    >If the aim of the law is to protect people and promote equality, “stand your ground” laws do neither.

    Unless, of course, whites actually ARE more justified in killing blacks than they are in killing whites. Unless everything in your study was constant except race, it can’t really be used to justify your argument.

    All that said, the example of your friend exhibits how such laws can be perverted. I’m not familiar with Texas law, but I agree that we shouldn’t have laws that allow people to kill others in situations where their own lives aren’t threatened. That’s a much more tenable point than is that which seems to make up most of your article, and also quite different.

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    • Jeremy says:

      Mr. Flugerson, if you’re going to disagree with someone’s opinion, I would suggest you do it in a respectful manner. People would tend to respect your own opinion more.

      As for this article,I tend to agree more with the second commenter. Obviously, in a life or death situation, having a law that restricts the ability to defend oneself with lethal force would be… for lack of a better word, disadvantageous. However, restricting the law to a life threatening situation would be a beneficial step towards ceasing the killing of individuals like Aaron’s friend. Unfortunately, misinterpretations of the law would still occur on behalf of the individual. Ultimately, the necessary overhaul must occur in the courtroom. It’s the judicial system that allows misinterpretation of the statute to pervade, and therein the problem lies.

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      • texastopcat says:

        It is amazing how some people seem to think that a criminal has more rights than the victim. Being a criminal is a choice and the likely hood of being caught and hurt is part of that decision. I would not have shot this person (assuming the story does not distort the facts too much), mainly because I would not want the hassle caused by stopping this criminal. I would not really care about the safety of the criminal.

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    • BHirsh says:

      Bulldonkey.

      “Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.” – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

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