Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Stand-your-ground law explained: How it works and where it applies

Right to self-defence permits individual facing a serious threat of bodily harm to respond in kind rather than retreat

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 23 July 2018 20:14 BST
A youth brandishing a knife in the street
A youth brandishing a knife in the street (Oliver Grove/PYMCA/Rex)

A “stand-your-ground” law is a justification used in a criminal case permitting a person under physical attack to respond in kind.

A right to self-defence, the rationale assumes that any individual has the right to expect absolute safety in any place they have a right to be in. Any immediate or direct threat of bodily harm they are subjected to can be met with an equivalent retaliatory act to protect themselves.

This means the intended victim has no duty to retreat and can instead use “reasonable force” to fend off an assailant.

What constitutes “reasonable force”, however, is open-ended and might be left to a court of law to decide on the appropriateness or otherwise of a defendant’s actions in relation to the specific circumstances of the case.

Whether that defence is applicable might also be called into question depending on the context, for instance if a burglar were to fight back after being attacked by a home owner, given that they had no right to be on the premises in the first place, a common law notion known as a “castle doctrine”.

In the US, several states have formal stand-your-ground legislation in place. These are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This does not mean its application is free from controversy.

The case of a Florida man who was not charged after shooting and killing a fellow shopper following an argument over a parking space at a convenience store which had escalated violently drew local protests in mid-July 2018.

Florida’s law entitles people to use “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so.”

There is no equivalent law in place in the UK although the possibility that inflicting harm might be necessary in self-defence is recognised.

Instead, citizens are expected to minimise harm as far as possible and consider whether retreating or running away might be the more appropriate response.

In the event that the victim’s response to an attack is deemed to amount to a show of “excessive force” rather than “reasonable”, they could be liable for prosecution, as in the case of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, jailed for shooting a would-be burglar in August 1999.

An online petition to have a UK law enshrining “stand-your-ground” introduced under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government attracted just 39 out of the 10,000 signatures needed to push its discussion in Parliament.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in