Criminal Justice

Prosecutors argue stand-your-ground law doesn't apply in cases of domestic violence

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Prosecutors in Charleston, South Carolina, contend the state’s stand-your-ground law doesn’t apply to domestic disputes in the home.

Prosecutors say they will make that argument when they appeal a judge’s finding in an immunity hearing that Whitlee Jones of North Charleston was justified in fatally stabbing her boyfriend, Eric Lee, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.

Assistant Solicitor Culver Kidd of the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office was lead prosecutor on the case. In a legal filing, Kidd said the stand-your-ground-law has become “the criminal contingent’s best defense” and “a potential license to kill.” He tells the Post and Courier that lawmakers passed the law “to provide law-abiding citizens greater protections from external threats in the form of intruders and attackers” and it wasn’t intended to “reach into our homes and personal relationships.”

Jones stabbed Lee in November 2012 in an incident that began in an argument over a cellphone. Lee had given Jones the phone, but he wanted it back, the Post and Courier says, citing court documents. Jones says she refused, leading Lee to punch her and, when she got out through the back door, to pull her by the hair down the street. A neighbor called 911 and Jones tried to do so too, but the phone went dead. She gave up the cellphone, ending the initial confrontation, and ran down the street.

When police arrived, Lee said Jones had smashed his phone and there had been no assault. Jones later returned home to gather her belongings and leave for good. She says Lee became agitated and when she saw a knife, she tucked it into her bra. Jones claims Lee tried to block her as he was leaving, shook her, and was getting ready to hit her when she retrieved the knife and stabbed Lee in the heart.

Kidd points to the wording of the state’s stand-your-ground law, which creates a presumption that a person has a reasonable fear of death when an intruder is trying to forcefully enter a home, but not when a person against whom deadly force is used has the right to be in the dwelling.

The law also says a person “who is attacked in another place where he has a right to be” has the right to stand his ground if he reasonably believes it’s necessary to prevent serious injury or a violent crime. Kidd says “another place” refers to places other than the home. The judge in Jones’ case said the argument would “create a nonsensical result” because people could defend a partner’s attack outside the home, but not inside.

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