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Report links stand-your-ground laws to higher homicide rates

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Stand-your-ground laws hinder law enforcement, are applied inconsistently and disproportionately affect minorities. Those were the main findings from the ABA National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws. In a preliminary report (PDF) officially unveiled at the ABA Annual Meeting, the task force found that states with some form of stand-your-ground law have also seen increasing homicide rates.

The task force, co-chaired by Miami-based associate Leigh-Ann Buchanan of Berger Singerman and Jack Middleton of Manchester, New Hampshire, president of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton, conducted its investigation throughout most of 2013. It held five regional hearings throughout that year, performed a 50-state survey, and cited empirical and statistical evidence gleaned from four different studies conducted around the country.

The task force recommended that states either repeal stand-your-ground laws or refuse to enact them. Additionally, it encouraged the ABA to adopt an educational initiative to provide accurate information about these laws, as well as to correct the misconception that these laws provide carte blanche for people to use deadly force in public areas.

"We've heard nothing good about stand-your-ground laws," Middleton said. "In fact, the more you look at them, the more problems you find. It's our hope that the ABA as a whole will take a position against these laws."

Stand-your-ground laws are in effect in some form in 33 states. The laws eliminate the duty to retreat if individuals reasonably believe they are facing an imminent threat of bodily harm, and they allow people to use force—including deadly force—without being found criminally liable. Some states also provide civil immunity to people who act pursuant to stand-your-ground laws.


The task force report found that stand-your-ground laws carry an implicit bias against racial minorities due to cultural stereotypes about certain groups being more threatening or violent. The report found that in instances in which a white shooter kills a black victim, that homicide was 350 percent more likely to be ruled as justified than if a white shooter killed a white person.

Task force member David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, pointed to a 2012 Texas A&M study by Mark Hoesktra and Cheng Cheng that found in states enacting a stand-your-ground law, homicides actually increased by 8 percent. "Eight percent!" said Harris. "Could you imagine if your city's homicide rate went up by 8 percent?"

Task force member Joshu Harris, an assistant district attorney at the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office in Massachusetts, cited numerous cases where individuals not only stood their ground but actively pursued and shot other individuals, even if there was no threat of imminent harm. "Prosecutors and victim rights advocates in our hearings confirmed the assertion that most [people killed in stand-your-ground cases] were unarmed," Harris said.

Another task force member, Joseph J. Vince, is a former officer in the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the director of criminal justice programs at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He stated that there was widespread opposition from law enforcement personnel toward stand-your-ground laws.

"Instead of encouraging peaceful resolution through the rule of law, stand-your-ground laws encourage violent actions," Vince said. "They place police officers at risk and give criminals an automatic defense."

The task force is calling for more research, including a comprehensive study combining quantitative and qualitative legal analysis of stand-your-ground statutes. According to Buchanan, the preliminary report will be made available for public comments. She hopes to submit the report, as well as the task force's proposed solutions, to the ABA House of Delegates during the 2015 ABA Midyear Meeting.
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