The recent acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was accused of shooting and killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, has raised many questions on the issue of self-defense. On a rainy evening in Florida in February 2012, Zimmerman made a call to police reporting a suspicious boy in his neighborhood. After hanging up with the dispatcher he and the boy were involved in a violent encounter. Soon thereafter, Zimmerman shot Martin fatally.
The shooting gave us a glimpse into many states’ “stand-your-ground” laws. These laws give you the right to use deadly force if you are facing a “reasonable threat.” While stand-your-ground laws were not used in his defense, the jury in Zimmerman’s case was given an explanation of Florida’s stand-your-ground law. They went on to acquit him of second-degree murder.
Would the stand-your-ground law apply in California? Let’s take a look at California’s self-defense laws.
California’s “Castle Doctrine” (PC Section 198.5)
Although California does not specifically have a “stand-your-ground” law, the Castle Doctrine is similar. Under Penal Code Section 198.5, you are allowed to use deadly force within your own home if you have a “reasonable fear of imminent peril or great bodily injury.”
If someone forces his or her way into your home unlawfully, a few things must occur to justify using deadly force:
You knew or had reason to believe the person entered your home unlawfully;The intruder was acting unlawfully (not a police officer who was doing their job);There was a reasonable fear of death or injury to you, a family member or another member of the household; andYou or the occupants of your home did not provoke the intruder in any way.
California Self Defense Laws Outside of Your Home (CALCRIM #505 and #506)
Of course, not all self-defense situations occur inside your home. Even though there is not a specific statute for standing your ground, California law does recognize your right to defend yourself with deadly force. California Jury Instructions (CALCRIM #505 and #506) describe this as “justifiable homicide.”
A jury is instructed to find you innocent of homicide, assault or other charges if you were acting reasonably under the circumstance. A reasonable circumstance under California Jury Instructions #505 and #506 means:
You reasonably believed you were in danger of being injured or killed;You reasonably believed that you needed to use force to prevent this from happening; andYou used no more force than was necessary to stop the threat.4
If you are facing a reasonable threat of being injured or killed, you do not have to run away under California law. As long as you did not make the first strike, a skilled criminal defense attorney can argue that you were acting in self-defense.
Self-defense can be used as a legal defense for several crimes including: murder; aggravated assault; aggravated battery; and murder.
States that have passed stand your ground laws include:
Alabama,Alaska,Arizona,Florida,Georgia,Idaho,Indiana,Kansas,Kentucky,Louisiana,Michigan Mississippi,Mississippi,Missouri,Montana,Nevada,New Hampshire,North Carolina,Oklahoma,Pennsylvania,South Carolina,South Dakota,Tennessee,Texas,Utah,West Virginia.
****NOTE CALIFORNIA IS NOT ONE****