Monday, July 29, 2013
Stand in the Place Where You Live: Interesting New Florida & South Carolina Cases Involving Stand Your Ground Laws
Last week, over at the Education Law Prof Blog, LaJuana Davis posed an entry about T.P. v. Florida, a case in which the Fourth District Court of Appeal applied Florida's Stand Your Ground law to a fight on a school bus. Today, over at The Faculty Lounge, my colleague and Davis's co-blogger, Derek Black, followed up with a post noting that
The stand your ground statute speaks only to criminal immunity, but, if I were representing a child in an expulsion hearing, I would press the fact that the child was only acting in a way that the law affirmatively protects and it would be inconsistent for a school to punish a child for something the law says he or she can do. Of course, this only shows how absurd stand your ground is. Many schools take the position that when a fight occurs and both students act with violence, there are no innocent parties. In other words, schools expect students to deseclate a situation or be prepared to suffer the consequences. Application of stand your ground to school grounds obviously sends the opposite message.
I agree with Professor Black and wanted to highlight another interesting Stand Your Ground case, this one from South Carolina.
As of today, at least 25 states, including South Carolina, have Stand Your Ground laws, with South Carolina’s law being called the Protection of Persons and Property Act. As the Supreme Court of South Carolina noted in State v. Duncan,
The Act provides, “It is the intent of the General Assembly to codify the common law Castle Doctrine which recognizes that a person’s home is his castle....” S.C.Code Ann. § 16–11–420(A) (Supp.2010). The Act also states, “the General Assembly finds that it is proper for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, their families, and others from intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves and others.” S.C.Code Ann. § 16–11–420(B) (Supp.2010).
The Act further provides:
(A) A person is presumed to have a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily injury to himself or another person when using deadly force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily injury to another person if the person:
(1) against whom the deadly force is used is in the process of unlawfully and forcefully entering, or has unlawfully and forcibly entered a dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle...; and
(2) who uses deadly force knows or has reason to believe that an unlawful and forcible entry or unlawful and forcible act is occurring or has occurred….
(D) A person who unlawfully and by force enters or attempts to enter a person’s dwelling, residence, or occupied vehicle is presumed to be doing so with the intent to commit an unlawful act involving force or a violent crime as defined in Section 16–1–60. S.C.Code Ann. § 16–11–440 (Supp.2010).
The immunity provision...provides:
(A) A person who uses deadly force as permitted by the provisions of this article or another applicable provision of law is justified in using deadly force and is immune from criminal prosecution and civil action for the use of deadly force, unless the person against whom deadly force was used is a law enforcement officer....S.C.Code Ann. § 16–11–450 (Supp.2010) (emphasis supplied).
This takes us to the strange case of Gregg Isaac. Isaac
and another man, Tavares World, entered [Antonio] Corbitt’s apartment after World kicked the door in. World and Isaac each had pistols. World and Corbitt began fighting.
As World and Corbitt fought, at one point, Isaac testified Monday, it looked like Corbitt was going to pull a gun from his pants and shoot Isaac, so he – Isaac – shot Corbitt twice. Corbitt stumbled outside and died on a front walk. Isaac told Newman he feared for his life, both from Corbitt and from World, whom Isaac said had threatened to kill him unless he went along with World.
Isaac’s attorney, Schnee, argued briefly to [Judge] Newman that Isaac should be granted immunity from prosecution under South Carolina’s “Stand your Ground” law, which allows people to use deadly force if they fear for their lives. Isaac testified he was in fear for his life.
“It borders on the preposterous for the defendant in this case to claim he was acting lawfully and had the right to kill Mr. Corbitt,” Newman told Schnee in open court.
But it didn't matter what Judge Newman thought.
After the trial began, Schnee had an emergency petition filed with the S.C. Supreme Court, requesting a stay in the trial because Newman turned down the request.
In an unusual move, the Supreme Court granted that stay on Tuesday, on the trial’s second day, causing Newman to halt the trial and dissolve the jury panel.
Here is the court's order.
The Supreme Court – which rarely stops an ongoing trial – said in its order that it wants to hear arguments concerning the state’s 2006 “Stand Your Ground” law, which effectively allows people to claim immunity from prosecution when they have used deadly force to deal with and even kill people who they believe have threatened them in various situations.
The arguments the high court wants to hear apparently don’t involve the substance of the law – they involve at what point in a trial process a judge should hold a full hearing about whether evidence can be introduced about whether the defendant can assert that he enjoys immunity from prosecution because he was in fear for his life when he used deadly force. If a judge were to grant immunity, then a trial would not have to be held.
As the article goes on to note,
Without commenting on the merits of the case, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson – whose high-profile violent crime prosecutor Luck Campbell was prosecuting the case – said in an interview, “I’m glad it’s an issue that the court is taking a look at.”
The issue of when and if a full pretrial hearing should be held on the “Stand Your Ground” law is an important one, Johnson said. “As you know, court time is at a premium. In essence, you’ll have to have a mini-trial before you go ahead with the full trial. It makes it more difficult to have a trial in a speedy fashion when you have to have mini-trials in factual scenarios that might be absurd, in my opinion.”
But the question of when and if a pretrial hearing shall be held is not the only issue. Instead, the order by the Supreme Court of South Carolina directed the parties to also address the following issue:
When a determination is made prior to trial that the Protection of Persons and Property Act is inapplicable in a case as a matter of law, is that determination immediately appealable under State v. Duncan, 392 S.C. 404, 709 S.E.2d 662 (2001)?