Castle Doctrine sets dangerous precedent

Aaron Hall | Contributing Writer

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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