"Stand your ground" laws, sometimes called “shoot first" laws, remove the duty to retreat and permit the use of deadly force in self-defense, although the scope of these laws varies from state to state. In 2005, Florida became the first state to pass a "stand your ground" law. Then, in 2012, Florida's law came into contention when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman faced criminal charges but was ultimately found not guilty under Florida's "stand your ground" laws.
Some states have self-defense laws that are similar to "stand your ground" laws, but there is one key difference. While self-defense laws remove any duty to retreat, these laws only apply to specific locations such as one's home or place of work. These types of laws are often referred to as castle doctrine or defense of habitation laws.
Types of Self-Defense Laws
Although some states use a blend of doctrines, self-defense laws generally fall into the following three categories:
- Stand Your Ground: No duty to retreat from the situation before resorting to deadly force; not limited to your home, place of work, etc.
- Castle Doctrine: A common law principle where there is no duty to retreat before using lethal force if you are in your home or yard (some states include a place of work and occupied vehicles)
- Duty to Retreat: Duty to retreat from a threatening situation and possibly leave it to law enforcement instead, if you can do so with complete safety
States With "Stand Your Ground" Laws
It's important to understand that even states that have "stand your ground laws" still have certain restrictions when it comes to using force in self-defense. For example, a state may require that the threat of perceived bodily injury is objectively reasonable, and that reasonable force is used in proportion to the threat. "Stand your ground" laws may also require that the person using self-defense be at the location lawfully (no trespassing, for example) and not be the initial aggressor in the altercation.
States that have passed stand-your-ground laws include:
Note: Some states have adopted similar "stand your ground" doctrines through judicial interpretation of their self-defense laws, but they're not included on this list.
States That Impose a Duty to Retreat
On the other end of the legal spectrum, some jurisdictions impose a duty to retreat. A duty to retreat generally means that you can't resort to deadly force in self-defense if you can safely avoid the risk of imminent danger. If that's not an option due to being cornered, pinned down, or facing great bodily harm, then you may be authorized to use deadly force in self-defense.
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
It's important to note that, even in duty to retreat states, there's no duty to retreat from an intruder in your home.
Lastly, these states all adhere to some version of the castle doctrine:
- New Mexico
Ask a Criminal Law Attorney About "Stand Your Ground" Laws in Your State
While some states let you stand your ground, in others you may be prosecuted for killing someone if you could have safely walked away from the confrontation. To learn more about self-defense laws in your state, contact a local criminal defense attorney.