Criminal Justice

Justifiable Homicides Rise, Especially in States with 'Stand Your Ground' Laws

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Justifiable homicides are increasing, especially in states with “stand your ground” laws, even as the overall U.S. homicide rate is falling.

From 2000 to 2010, justifiable homicides rose from 176 to 326, an 85 percent increase, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. The category includes killings categorized as justifiable by police and prosecutors, and those in which defendants win at trial based on the claim.

Among all homicides, when races differ, the victim is more often white. In justifiable homicides, when races differ, the victim is more often black.

Florida passed its stand-your-ground law in 2005. Considered one of the broadest self-defense laws, it doesn’t require people to retreat when they are threatened outside their homes. The law creates a presumption that a person who kills in self defense had a reasonable fear of death or serious injury, according to an opinion column at CNN. After the law took effect, justifiable homicides in the state rose from 12 to 33 a year, the story says.

One person who relied on a stand your ground law is Columbia, S.C., lawyer James Corley, the Wall Street Journal says. He shot a gun-wielding man in 2009 who broke into a club for recovering alcoholics and demanded wallets. “I don’t want to find out whether I can outrun a bullet,” Corley tells the publication.

Another lawyer, John Hagler, says the Texas law has given defense attorneys another tool. “If you’ve got two guys shooting it out, how many defenses are there?” he told the Wall Street Journal. “I’ve had cases where my guy shot a guy in the back with an automatic rifle 11 times and claimed self-defense.”

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