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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and Georgia's own 'Stand Your Ground' law

Even though it took place in February, the shooting of Trayvon Martin has become March's biggest story. Responsible for the lag time between the 16 year old's death and its inclusion in the news cycle appears to be confusion. Martin — who was unarmed, except for a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles — had been shot to death, but no one was arrested for the crime. In fact, police didn't even search for a suspect, because they knew who did it, a 28-year-old neighbor named George Zimmerman.

Initially — until the public started freaking out — law enforcement decided that Zimmerman's actions were lawful under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, an NRA-backed piece of legislation that relaxes the circumstances under which a citizen can use deadly force against a person they decide is a physical threat or a threat to their property.

Florida was the first to pass the law in 2005. Several states — including Georgia — followed suit and passed the legislation in 2006. SB 396 was introduced by Sen. Greg Goggans (R-Douglas), who's still in office.

At the time, Georgia's Green Party was among the groups that opposed the bill. They argued it would encourage vigilantism — and embolden people exactly the way in which George Zimmerman was emboldened. From an '06 press release:

"While this bill has been strongly endorsed by the National Rifle Association, this is not remotely about Second Amendment rights," said Nan Garrett, co-chair of the Georgia Green Party, gun owner and concealed weapon license holder. "S.B. 396 would simply allow citizens to make hasty, emotional reactionary decisions and encourages a dangerous vigilante atmosphere. But this bill goes further by implicitly encouraging irresponsible use of deadly weapons. Are these the values we want to instill in our children and create as a standard for the state of Georgia?"

The bill was also said to leave too much room for interpretation. The full text is after the jump. What do you think?

AN ACT

To amend Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to justification and excuse as a defense to certain crimes, so as to provide that a person who is attacked has no duty to retreat; to provide that such person has a right to meet force with force, including deadly force; to provide for civil immunity; to amend Article 1 of Chapter 11 of Title 51 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions relative to defense to tort actions, so as to provide for civil immunity; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA:

SECTION 1.
Article 2 of Chapter 3 of Title 16 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to justification and excuse as a defense to certain crimes, is amended by inserting immediately following Code Section 16-3-23 a new Code section to read as follows:
"16-3-23.1.
A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and use force as provided in said Code sections, including deadly force."

SECTION 2.
Said article is further amended by striking in its entirety Code Section 16-3-24.2, relating to immunity from prosecution and exception, and inserting in lieu thereof the following:
"16-3-24.2.
A person who uses threats or force in accordance with Code Section 16-3-21, 16-3-23, 16-3-23.1, or 16-3-24 shall be immune from criminal prosecution therefor unless in the use of deadly force, such person utilizes a weapon the carrying or possession of which is unlawful by such person under Part 2 or 3 of Article 4 of Chapter 11 of this title."
SECTION 3.
Article 1 of Chapter 11 of Title 51 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to general provisions relative to defense to tort actions, is amended by striking in its entirety Code Section 51-11-9, relating to immunity from civil liability for threat or use of force in defense of a habitation, and inserting in lieu thereof the following:
"51-11-9.
A person who is justified in threatening or using force against another under the provisions of Code Section 16-3-21, relating to the use of force in defense of self or others, Code Section 16-3-23, relating to the use of force in defense of a habitation, or Code Section 16-3-24, relating to the use of force in defense of property other than a habitation, has no duty to retreat from the use of such force and shall not be held liable to the person against whom the use of force was justified or to any person acting as an accomplice or assistant to such person in any civil action brought as a result of the threat or use of such force."

SECTION 4.
All laws and parts of laws in conflict with this Act are repealed.

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