The Zimmerman verdict, the result of which I need not remind, shook the nation last night. Widespread discontentment arose as George Zimmerman was exonerated, and Trayvon Martin was labeled the aggressor. And Zimmerman can thank the Florida “Stand Your Ground” statute, a statute which exists in twenty-four other states, for his acquittal.
Fueled by the disheartened indignation that many across the nation feel as well as an initiative to prevent future outcomes such as this — justice and a just trial should be synonymous — the NAACP and others are proposing that Stand Your Ground laws be eradicated. While it seems blatant that, in this case, Zimmerman and his attorneys were able exploit this provision at the expense of justice, it is a provision that belongs in American justice systems and one that, more often than not, benefits the victim.
Federal law already ensures that a person in his or her own home has the right to use lethal methods as protection. Stand Your Ground laws extend this right to public places. Subsequently, in states without Stand Your Ground statutes, a person is required to retreat.
The most compelling reason that there should remain a Stand Your Ground law is thus the circumstances that might arise in its absence. A victim should not be expected to out run his or her aggressor or rely upon a law enforcement officer to appear at the scene.
If a person’s life is in danger, he or she has the right to defend him or herself to whatever extent is necessary for protection. In a moment of hysteria and desperation, an atmosphere that is expected when a person’s safety is severely compromised, an innocent person should not be inhibited from taking protective, and sometimes necessarily aggressive, initiatives by fear of legal retribution.
A person has and ought to have the right to exercise every necessary human capacity to defend his or her life.
Admittedly, there are statistics that show an uptick in homicides in some states where Stand Your Ground laws have been enacted. There also are circumstances, namely the Zimmerman verdict, in which the law is construed to justify a realistically unjustifiable violence.
Perhaps the law should be less inclusive. Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the prosecution. Our legal system is intended to protect the innocent just as much as it is to impose justice on the guilty. We as a nation cannot compromise the safety of our innocent in order to ease the prosecution process.
If a person is truly guilty, if adequate proof is collected, and if a capable prosecution is administered, Stand Your Ground will not inhibit justice. The system is imperfect, but it is the price we pay for many of our liberties. It was no mistake that five amendments in the Bill of Rights pertain to the rights of the accused. We don’t need to change our justice system, we just need to execute it more capably.