A recent case from a Florida state court has created more discussion about controversial “stand your ground” laws. These laws are really just a smaller part of the larger criminal law question of what the self-defense rights are of someone who is attacked, and when someone can legally claim self-defense.
The Right to Self Defense
In Maryland, as in most other states, there is a right to take whatever reasonable actions are necessary to protect ourselves and our family from physical violence. There must be a situation where someone would reasonably feel threatened, and the actions taken in self-defense must also be reasonable. The force used must also be proportional to the perceived risk.
The difference in state laws occur in situations where someone could escape the attacker. When it is possible to do so safely, does someone have to escape or avoid the danger, or can the person “stand their ground,” and use deadly force?
Maryland applies the former principle. If someone can retreat safely and avoid danger by retreating, they must do so, before resorting to deadly force. The exception is in one’s home, where there is no a duty to run away or retreat from an attacker.
Stand Your Ground
Other states, such as Florida, apply “stand your ground.” This controversial law came into play in the widely publicized Treyvon Martin case. The law allows someone to use deadly force in self defense, even if the possibility to escape safely existed.
Critics say that the law leads to more shootings, and makes it difficult for prosecutors to disprove or overcome an assertion of stand your ground self-defense claims by defendants, since the other person is often dead.
Burdens of Proof for Self Defense
We know that in criminal law, the defendant does not need to prove anything; the defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed. But many states do require defendants to prove self-defense if they assert it. It is the rare occasion where a defendant has to prove anything.
Maryland uses a hybrid of burdens. It requires a defendant to produce some evidence that self-defense was necessary; it must be more than a mere allegation. But evidence by itself is not proof, and a defendant does not have to prove self-defense. Rather, once some kind of evidence is produced by a defendant, the prosecutor must then prove that the defendant was not acting in self-defense, in order to obtain a conviction.
Florida’s Law Declared Unconstitutional
Florida’s stand your ground rule recently tried to force prosecutors to prove self-defense. A state court judge has ruled that law unconstitutional because generally courts, not legislatures, have the power to determine burdens in court.
Maryland’s self-defense burdens have been determined by their court system, not lawmakers. Thus, a constitutional challenge such as the one in Florida, would likely not apply in Maryland, even if Maryland had a Stand Your Ground law.
Make sure your attorney understands defenses available to you if you are charged with a crime. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are arrested in Maryland.