In my most recent blog, I wrote about the legal defense of self-defense in Alabama, especially when deadly force is used in defense of self, defense of a third party, or defense of property. In this blog I hope to educate the reader on what is commonly known as and referred to as Alabama's "Stand Your Ground" doctrine. I would strongly recommend that this blog topic should be read in conjunction with my blog on self defense and deadly force. I have included a link to that blog at the end of this blog.
Believe it or not, years ago The Criminal Code of Alabama, also commonly known as Title 13A, required a person who was contemplating using physical force or deadly force to defend herself, retreat (run away) if it was safe to do so. Hard to believe, isn't it? Well, its true. Since then, the law in Alabama has changed and a person is not legally required to retreat if confronted with a physical force or deadly physical force situation. What I'm speaking of can be found in the Alabama Criminal Code, 13A-3-23(b). That criminal defense statute reads as follows: "A person who is justified under subsection (a) in using physical force, including deadly physical force, and who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and is in any place where he or she has the right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground."
You don't have to be a lawyer to understand that legal defense. It is well written, straight forward, and really leaves very little room for misinterpretation. Regardless of how masterfully written this subsection of the law may be, I feel that there are some important aspects of this law that warrants (no pun intended!) some additional discussion.
For starters, the law is very specific about what the person who uses physical force, including deadly force, in a self-defense situation can and cannot do. What do I mean by that? The law states that the first legal bar that must be met before a person is legally permitted in using physical force or deadly force, is that the use of force must be justified under 13A-3-23(a). So what does 13A-3-23(a) say? I will summarize it for you. It says that you can use physical force or deadly physical force to defend yourself or a third person if the threat is imminent (real and immediate) and the actor (you) reasonably believe that whatever level or form of self-defense that you use is necessary.
There is that vague and ambiguous word that appears so many times in the law again...."reasonable." What is "reasonable" to you may not be "reasonable" to me. So whose interpretation of what is reasonable in any given situation really counts? Easy. That person (or group or people) is "The Finder of Fact".....either a judge in a bench trial or a jury in a jury trial. The Finder of Fact's opinion or definition of what is reasonable is the ONLY opinion that matters.
Next, a person who uses physical force or deadly physical force must not be the initial aggressor or be committing a criminal act. That means you can't go pick a fight with someone and then later claim that since you were getting your butt kicked by the guy YOU picked a fight with, you pulled out your .38 Rossi revolver and shot and killed the other guy. In that situation, YOU started the fight and YOU were getting exactly what you deserved...a butt kicking. If you then decided to use deadly physical force to now "ward off your attacker," I'm afraid that your in some serious legal trouble and are looking at some substantial prison time for murder or manslaughter. You better call me right away!
Lastly, in order for you to be able to receive the benefit of Alabama's Stand Your Ground doctrine defense, you have to be in a physical location where you are allowed to be. For example, you can't be robbing the local pharmacy (committing a criminal act) and then use your gun to shoot the pharmacist who confronts you with his gun, and claim that you were standing your ground because you feared for your life!
So let's summarize Alabama's Stand Your Ground doctrine. In order to claim this as a defense when using physical force or deadly physical force, you must:
- Be legally justified to use force
- The force must be deemed to be "reasonable" in its scope
- Not be the instigator of the confrontation
- Not be committing a crime or doing a criminal act
- Be at a location where you are permitted to be